Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Marriages...and stuff

I was pretty proud of this homily I preached a my friends' wedding.

My Dear Friends in Christ
Let me begin with two apologies. The first is to Misty and Jacob. I lengthened the gospel that you chose and didn’t tell you. You had just chosen the end, the section called the “Great Commandment” and I decided to include the part about the Sadducees asking Jesus about resurrection by talking about the poor woman married seven times to seven brothers who has no children. I hope that in the course of this homily, you’ll see why I did that.
Also, I want to apologize to our Protestant brothers and sisters who are with us today in case you didn’t recognize that first reading. It’s one of those books that is in catholic bibles but was eliminated during the reformation. It’s one of my favorite books of our Old Testament, to be honest. It’s a story of intrigue, suspense, Angels, Demons, and even a fish that manages to give its life to save some people. If you’ve never heard of this story before, let me try to briefly summarize it. There was a righteous Jew named Tobit who was in exile in Babylon. Tobit was one who, when his fellow Jews were killed, would go out and bury their bodies in order to follow the prescripts of the law, despite the fact that the king didn’t like him doing this. But, this shows Tobit’s bravery and his faith. Unfortunately, Tobit goes blind and this causes strife between he and his wife, Anna, causing him to pray for death. Meanwhile, in a distant land, there was a young woman named Sarah who was also praying for death. She had been married to seven different husbands and none of them managed to live a single night with her as his wife. Thankfully, God heard the prayer of both Tobit and Sarah and sent the Archangel Raphael to help them. Tobit decides to settle his accounts with his relatives and sends his son, Tobiah, on journey and Raphael is his guide. Raphael not only proves to be a trustworthy guide but a God-send as he teaches Tobiah along the journey a way of curing his father’s blindness and driving the demon out of Sarah who is killing her husbands using the guts of a fish, a symbol of Christ for us Christians.
All of that precedes the present passage. Tobiah, newly married, has burned the incense to drive out the demon but he knows that, for the marriage to be sealed against further attack, they need to pray. So, Tobiah and Sarah get out of bed to pray before they lay their heads down to sleep. It’s a reminder of how important praying together is in any relationship, but especially in this most mysterious relationship of Marriage, a relationship that Paul talked about as being like Christ’s marriage to the church.
I think that you have to know about that story to know what the Sadducees are referring to in the gospel today, which is why I wanted to include it. Even though they are trying to use it to show how absurd the resurrection is, Jesus turns it to show something profound about human beings and something profound about himself. About human beings, Jesus says “At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage…” Now, I’m not trying to say that what we’re doing here has no effect in heaven. I don’t think that’s what he was saying. I think he was saying that either the marriage sticks here on earth or it won’t matter in heaven. In other words, either we get married here or we stay single for the rest of our eternal life. I was going to go around last night at the rehearsal dinner to get some examples of relationships that both of you have had that you’re now really glad they didn’t end in marriage but I decided that that could get a little too personal. Plus, you never know! They could be here. But, I imagine we all have had relationships that we give thanks to God each day that they didn’t end in marriage. It seems to me, Misty and Jacob, that God is saying that when it’s the right one, not only will you know but he’ll let you know that it’s the life-long one as well.
But, as I said before, Jesus is also trying to say something profound about himself. In that passage, Jesus is also showing himself to be the authoritative interpreter of scripture, which somewhat challenged the Sadducees but especially challenged the Pharisees who kind of felt like they had the market cornered on scripture interpretation. So, they approach Jesus and ask him to interpret scripture, basically boil down all 600 plus commandments to one. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy and Leviticus to Love God and Love neighbor. By combining these two commandments, we see Jesus putting forth another profound truth that a different evangelist, John, is infatuated with. He is basically saying that the same love the we show to God is the love that we need to show to each other. We need to be lovers of God and lovers our neighbor to truly show our faith. John will say that God is love, so the love we show each other is God himself. To quote Paul again from the second reading, this is a great mystery! It’s the mystery that, in some ways, draws us here. The love that the two of you show one another is the presence of God. It’s why we are so privileged to be here: Because in seeing you profess the love that God has given you that connects you together for the rest of your life, we see God. Thank you for the privilege.
With most couples, that’s where my reflection ends and I sit down. But, Misty and Jacob wanted us to go further and I would be remiss if I pretended like the only thing that was said in that second reading was that marriage is a mystery. Because, let’s face it. It’s a reading that is often misunderstood. It’s used by physically abusive husbands to subject their wives to hell on earth. It smacks of abuse if it’s not properly understood. The only way that you can understand it is in the way that Misty and Jacob have presented it to us: with an eye toward the profound sense of God’s love for us, the love that is Christ. Only if we see Jesus death and resurrection as the center piece of humility, only if we see Christ’s incarnation as the humbling of the exalted one so that we who are humbled might be exalted, does any of this make sense. Wives, die for your husbands just as the church must take up our cross daily and follow Christ. Husbands, die for your wives just as Jesus died for the church. Die to the need to be in charge. Die to the need to have power and authority, that original sin that plagued. Die to the idea that you are only worthy if you are successful in your job. Die to the idea that you are only successful if you have more stuff than your neighbor. Let love be the only thing that lives in your heart and then live in love.
Indeed, St. Paul was right, this is a great mystery, or sacrament to use a slightly different translation of the same word, a sacrament that we are privileged to witness today. May you draw deeper into this sacrament each day of your married life through the humble prayer of loving service that we see modeled in Christ.