Sunday Sermon for October 7, 2012, the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Readings: Gen 2:18-24; Heb 2:9-11; Mk 10:2-16

In the Gospel reading today the Pharisees question our Lord about marriage and divorce. His answer is of the greatest importance, especially in a society that is trying desperately to change the definition of marriage. The Pharisees test Jesus by pointing out that Moses had allowed divorce, but the part of Moses’ allowance that is unclear has to do with the reason for divorce.

This is what was really at the heart of the Pharisaical question. For centuries the Rabbis had been putting forth various opinions regarding this question, so the Pharisees wanted to see which school of thought Jesus embraced. Refusing to take the side of any human tradition, our Lord points back to the Garden to reiterate what God had intended from the beginning.

The fact that our Lord would point back to the beginning of human existence to teach us what marriage is about tells us that even with all of the sins and the effects of sin, both in the Garden and beyond, the essence of marriage remained the same. So, while there are certainly many things which remained after the fall, the two that are among the most important are the dignity of the human person and the unity of the two persons in marriage.

The question of human dignity is one that many people find difficult. While it can be easily recognized in others, many people have trouble seeing their own dignity. We can keep in mind that after Adam and Eve fell, their dignity remained intact. No matter what we have done, it cannot compare with the gravity of the original transgression. If their dignity remains unchanged, so does ours.

This is critical because that dignity must be present before marriage can be a real possibility. We see in the first reading that Adam found no one among the animals who fulfill the longing of his heart. It is true that he had God, but the Lord knew that there was someone needed on the natural level. When Eve was created Adam could exclaim that is one was flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. She was not like the other animals; she was like him.

This means that both are equal, both are created in the image and likeness of God, both are made to love and to be loved. It is true, on a natural level, that for those called to the married state, both will find their fulfillment in the other person. With all of this said, it could still be argued that the man and woman could still be equal to one another and could still be unlike the animals, yet their dignity might have been compromised or destroyed all together.

The easiest way to dismantle this kind of thinking is found in the second reading today. St. Paul speaks of Jesus becoming one of us or, as we can say theologically, He took our human nature to Himself. St. Paul even goes so far as to say that He Who consecrates and those who are being consecrated have the same origin; therefore, He is not ashamed to call them brothers.

Jesus took on a human nature; if human nature was compromised then His human nature would not be the same as ours. St. Paul speaks of the origin of the beings, so as we saw in the Gospel, this goes beyond the time of sin to the very beginning. God is the One Who made us and saw that we were very good while all the rest of creation was simply good. This is the nature Jesus took to Himself and it is the nature He shared with you.

What does this have to do with marriage? If human nature is depraved, changed, destroyed or lessened, then it is no longer the way God made it. This would mean that it is no longer the image of God and that we could no longer do what we were created to do. This being the case, we would not be able to love and to be loved as we were created to do. An inability to love would necessarily mean an inability to focus on the other, be that God or neighbor. In other words, we would be totally self-focused.

Sin makes us self focused; love make us other focused. Love is the foundation of the marital commitment; it is also the origin and purpose of our being. Therefore, marriage is a perfect way to overcome sin and its effects by learning to serve another. This is what God created from the beginning and it is also the command given us by our Lord. Married couples, therefore, should be reflection of what Heaven will be: the union of persons and the fulfillment of persons in and through love.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit