27th Sunday Reflection: Compassion and Mercy as the Act of Love
Compassion and Mercy as the Act of Love – 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2021 – (Mark 10:2-12)
Our journey as the human species shows evidence that we desperately cling to what we think we ‘know’ often long past its’ ‘sell-by date’. George Bernard Shaw noted that “All great truths begin as blasphemies”.
“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” Western Union internal memo dated 1876.
“I do not believe the introduction of motor cars will ever affect the riding of horses” Mr Scott-Montague, MP, in the United Kingdom in 1903.
“The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?” David Sarnoff’s Associates rejecting a proposal for investment in the radio in the 1920s.
“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” H.M. Warner (Warner Brothers) before rejecting a proposal for movies with sound in 1927.
“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Ken Olsen (President, Chairman, and founder of Digital Equipment Corp.) in 1977.
Beyond small and spiteful religious fundamentalism, intolerance has just as often come from within the ranks of the scientific community. As Arthur Schopenhauer recognised, an important idea or truth must ‘endure a hostile reception before it is accepted’. “First, it is ridiculed, then it is violently opposed, and finally it is accepted as being self-evident.”
The dictum that ‘science progresses funeral by funeral’ proves that scientists are just as much victims of the human condition as the rest of us, with all the prejudice and frailties that this entails.
In today’s gospel, Jesus points out how in the course of history, we tend to take the way of least resistance. Then eventually someone like Moses comes along and turns a spontaneous compromise into something official. It was intended to suit a particular circumstance. Now all of a sudden it takes on the force of law, wearing the mask of orthodoxy, my particular way of ‘right thinking’.
Jesus’ teaching on marriage, the rights of women and children brought together in this extended passage calls on us to dig deeper and to look wider into the context of gospel living, marriage, family, law and custom.
As always we begin by placing ourselves within the context of Jesus teaching. The Pharisees are setting a trap for Jesus. There is the matter of secular power; will Jesus denounce the divorce and remarriage of King Herod as John the Baptist has done?
We know that King Herod and his new bride, do not take kindly to any criticism. There is the matter of religious authority; will Jesus contradict the laws of Moses? Wherever religious authority is entwined with political power, truth and justice give way to expediency and intolerance.
Then there is a matter of culture and traditions: Will Jesus estrange the people by talking out against the dominant patriarchal structure? Jesus’ mother Mary was herself a child bride, given in marriage without any modern notion of ‘consent’.
Jesus avoids all the pitfalls and the arguments of casuistry and goes directly to the Creators’ original intent; that the two should become one as the ‘image of the living God’. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)
Karl Rahner wrote that the first light shed by divine revelation on the secular reality of marriage resulted in the human realisation that God in transcendence was outside the sphere of marriage.
Marriage is essentially a reality of the created world that has significance in life here and now. Marriage is a good gift of creation, but one which belongs strictly to this world. It is within marriage that the essential fellowship of humanity can be fulfilled in the most meaningful and human way.
This worldly quality of marriage as a human commission is always closely linked to the prevailing historical situation which is subject to development since human existence is a reflective existence.
The history of salvation began in the misty dawn of humanity’s existence. The mists were slow to clear because our ancestors were at first concerned with living, and only gradually grew into a self-questioning being who was concerned to discover the meaning of his or her life.
This is why it is impossible for the Christian view of humanity and of human marriage and family life to be a pure datum of written revelation; it is more the result of a reflective human existence illuminated by the revelation of ‘The Word’ in the Christ event.
Our very living as human beings is in itself a view of life and of the world. This view is not contradicted by revelation. It is corrected by revelation where correction is needed and received by it into a transcendent sphere of life. The biblical ethos of marriage bears clear traces of the prevailing view of the status of women in society.
It took eleven centuries of Christianity before the social elements peculiar to the earlier secular form of the marriage contract were incorporated into the liturgical ceremony as a sacrament.
What had previously been secular became liturgical; and what had previously been a civil contract, made within the family circle and supplemented by a priestly ceremony of blessing or veiling, became a single liturgical whole conducted by the priest. From the eleventh century onwards jurisdictional power over marriage transferred from the secular to the church’s sphere.
From the fourth century onwards, a marriage liturgy evolved which existed alongside the civil form of marriage, but which was not made obligatory in the West until the eleventh century, and even then was not regarded as a condition of validity. Until the eleventh century, marriage was contracted civilly, although it was accompanied by church ceremonies. When then does a marriage become effective?
There is an old aphorism in marriage counselling which gets closer to the heart of both secular and sacramental marriage than does the Code of law. When are two people married? Thirty years later! This comes closer to the reality couples experience in their marriage; that becoming married; becoming two in one body; becoming sacramental symbol of the great covenant, is a much more continuous activity than simply giving consent in two little words, “I do.”
For centuries marriage tribunal courts have been delivering judgements on the validity or non-validity of marriages and today they are delivering judgements of non-validity in ever-growing numbers. None of those judgements is based on a defective faith however but on a defective consent or defective covenant love. Could that be changed?
There is, first, the problem involved in claiming that every marriage between baptised persons is a sacrament. There is, secondly, the problem of claiming that every marriage between baptised persons not celebrated in the form decreed is not a sacrament, or even a valid marriage, and therefore ‘cohabitation’ or ‘living in sin’.
I believe that the way forward lies in the cooperation of anthropology and psychology working together with theology towards a new understanding of the nature of what it means to be a human being and how the sacraments, marriage and the beauty of family life complements our journey as a human family.
Pope Francis has correctly commented that the church has had centuries of developing its legal muscles while the arm of compassion and mercy hangs limp.
How are we, as the beloved community of the church, to walk with and support struggling humanity in their daily journey of “I do”?