“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’

In our Lectionary Gospel reading, Jesus defines the fundamental sacredness of marriage (Mk 10:1-16). The sanctity of marriage as a matter of spiritual importance is the strength of the church, the basis and foundation of national development. The sad news today is that, the average duration of marriage is reducing; hence marriage is becoming a piece of paper.[1] Marriage is not only becoming a piece of paper, according to Bishop Robert Baron, the deep sacramental and spiritual ‘meaning of marriage – even within the Church has been, in recent years, dramatically compromised.’ Divorce rate is increasing with many children spending more time with one parent coupled.[2] Sanctity of marriage is built on human sexuality.  On sexuality in humans, God states clearly:.. male and female He created them (Gen 1:27). He created them male and female. . . (Gen 5:2). Jesus said, “But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’” (Mk 10:6). Jesus said, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female’” (Matt 19:4).

Beyond a prescriptive texts pertaining to God’s design and purpose of sex, marriage and family life, the Gospel reading from Mark suggests a stern warning on the growing tendency towards permissiveness in marriage. The warning resonates with us today as it was in first-century Jewish practice, allowing men to initiate divorce from their wives for different reasons, ‘leaving families shattered and women disgraced and destitute.’ The Pharisees came up and in order to test Jesus, to stir up trouble, to catch Jesus saying something which would allow them to provoke a crisis (Mk 10:2). In their hostility against Jesus, they select a very controversial question, the eternal issue of divorce. Beyond different human schools of thoughts, Jesus upheld the authority of the Scripture. Jesus, in His response goes back to the time of creation in the Old Testament about what Moses says. Jesus did not destroy the Law or change what it said. Jesus answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away.” But Jesus said to them, “For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.” (Mark 10:5). Jesus went further to interpret the Law, the reason why Moses permitted divorce because of the men’s hardness of their hearts (Deut 24). The reflection is that, divorce is the visible expression of what has been going on in private, ‘hardness of heart.’ The phrase, “hardness of heart” suggests a determination to response to the natural inclination of the flesh, to do what one like doing in the situation.

Hardness of heart in the marriages in Israel was about not paying any attention to what God reveals and says about it. In this context, a hardened heart dulls a person’s ability to perceive and understand, an ‘equivalent of spiritual retardation.’ King Pharaoh suggests an example of hardheartedness. He refused to let the children of Israel leave the land of Egypt as God had commanded. Jesus spoke to His disciples about the characteristics and symptoms that are descriptive of a hard heart: unable to perceive, unable to understand, unable to see, unable to hear, and unable to remember, all speaking of inabilities in the spiritual realm (Mk 8:17-18). When people are hard-hearted toward God, it is likely they are spiritually blind and deaf, just cannot see spiritual truth or hear the Lord speak to them. Inability to remember as in the case of the Pharisees that came to Jesus points to a major indication of the condition of their hearts.

The Gospel reading from Mark 10 calls us to a much stricter understanding and of the permanence of marriage, which God intended to be a lifelong one-flesh relationship between a man and a woman for the good of adults, children, and community. The Gospel reading warns us against a religion that can be summed up this way: In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judg 21:25). Today, the world and the church are adrift in a sea of moral relativism where man makes the rules and determines “truth.” Jesus’ bluntness and hard line on the Pharisees on the issue of divorce ‘hits us hard in an era of lax attitudes to marriage and sex.’ The main issue for Jesus is the state of our hearts. Jesus is saying that there is need to work hard to save marriage but the Pharisees are asking how easy it should be to walk away from a marriage as ordained by God.

Casual approach to marriage and divorce is not consistent with the way of life that Jesus calls us to follow. Jesus calls us back to the original vision that God has for creation by setting out the ideal for marriage, a life of mutual respect and inter-dependence. A Christian marriage as a life-long pilgrimage is not one without problems but it is one where husband and wife humble themselves to discover the hardness of their hearts and learn how God can soften it. The word of Peter is helpful in this context: “Husbands, dwell with your wives according to knowledge” (1 Peter 3:7). Peter is speaking of the kind of vocational knowledge that teaches a husband to honour his wife, to be considerate and understanding, always showing a self-sacrificing, Christ-like love as directed in God’s Word (Eph 5:25-33; Col 3:19. Marriage beyond a piece of paper is a vocation and not just a hobby and this calls the husband to respect his wife as an equal heir of God’s gracious salvation and inheritance of eternal life. Marriage as a vocation and not just a hobby invites the husband to take the lead in submitting his own interests and concerns for the good of his wife and family. Marriage as a vocation summons the husband never to abuse his wife or treat her improperly in any way- physically, emotionally or spiritually. Peter’s teaching is helpful for us today because a husband who fails to live with his wife in an understanding way and to give her proper honour as a child of God will damage his own relationship with God by creating a barrier between his prayers and God (Col 3:19). Disunity and contention between husbands and wives not only affect their relationship with each other, but they also affect each of their personal relationships with God. Marriage as a vocation enhances effectiveness of our prayers, therefore let us pray for healing of our hearts bearing in mind, the healing of heart is the basis for the effective prayer, healing of homes, marriages, the church and our nations.

[1] Okegbile Deji, Sanctifying Marriage: To Save the World; The Monarch’s Example of Marriage (A Call to the true Mission of Marriage as a Vocation and not a Hobby) (London: SADL Print, 2018), pp. 3, 6-8

[2]  https://www.christianitytoday.com/biblestudies/articles/top-10/top-10-bible-studies-marriage-2019.html