Proper 22

St Stephen’s, HarrisburgGenesis 2:18-24, Mark 10:2-9

I’ve always been glad I married young, because the whole dating scene just produces so much anxiety. If I were young and single again, I would almost certainly sign up for one of those online matchmaking services. Have you seen those TV commercials? It looks so appealing, I almost wish I could try it! A grandfatherly man with a warm voice and smile gives the sales pitch, while young and beautiful couples go on and on about how they found their perfect soul mate. It looks like it would remove much of the stress and anxiety that I dimly remember from my college years.

“It is not good that the man should be alone.” This was the Lord’s “note to self” as he looked at Adam lying there in the dust from which he had been created. So God created a female companion for the man—mysteriously like him in many important ways and at the same time unlike him in some very important ways. This prehistoric account is the seedbed of some of the most profound realities of our human experience—the mystery that we are separate, yet connected; the mystery that we are the same, yet different; the mystery that even when we can’t live with each other, neither can we live without each other.

“It is not good that the man should be alone.” Human beings are created for relationship the way fish are created to swim, the way hammers are made to pound nails and books are written to be read. Genesis tells us that we are created in the very image and likeness of God, and this need and ability to be in relationship is a big part of that image and likeness. Yes, there are hermits in the world, even Christian hermits. But Christian hermits are still members of a community, and they join that community, at least on Sundays, for the celebration of the Eucharist. And, yes, there are recluses and loners. But these people are virtually by definition labeled abnormal, or even crazy.

We all instinctively avoid loneliness. Even introverts—and I speak as an introvert—even introverts want to be with certain people some of the time! Even shy people are not anti-social; they crave company more than anyone. Even criminals usually work in groups, and sometimes have great affection for one another in those groups, and even observe a certain code of ethics; you know the expression, “Honor among thieves”?  Thinking theologically, I believe we can say that the experience of loneliness is itself part of what we call the Fall, the realm of sin and death. Since it departs from the order of Creation, loneliness is part of the alliance of spiritual forces that rebel against God, and corrupt and destroy the creatures of God—things that we renounce whenever we renew our baptismal vows.

“It is not good for the man to be alone.” God does not want us to be lonely. So he created a woman to form a relationship, to be a companion with the man he had made from the dust of the earth. The relationship they formed serves as the prototype for what we now know as marriage. Marriage, in fact, is a sign of God’s desire that we not be alone. And please note where in the sweep of the biblical story we find the gift of marriage—right at the beginning. As soon as there is a man and a woman, there’s marriage. Marriage is presented to us not as a mere human institution, a social construct that evolved over time and can potentially outlive its usefulness or evolve into something else as human society changes. Rather, marriage is presented to us as something fundamental. When the Pharisees put Jesus to the test by asking him about divorce, he responds, “From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female, and for this reason, a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, etc. etc.…”. From the beginning of creation. We talk about the “bonds” of matrimony, not in the sense of shackles, but in the sense of security, creating a “safe” place for two people to completely reveal themselves to one another, to be utterly transparent, for two to become “one flesh.” So marriage is a sign. A sign points not to itself, but to something beyond itself, in this case, a deeper reality. Marriage is a sign of God’s desire to combat human loneliness and to call all people into a transparent relationship with Himself.

That’s a rather astonishing fact, when you actually think about it. But right away, at least two complications present themselves. First, not everyone is called to marriage. Some are called to celibacy, which is intentional, consecrated, singleness, singleness for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Others are emotionally broken in some way and have difficulty forming a stable bond with another person. Some just never seem to find the right other person. Others simply lack the desire. Others still have been married, but have lost a spouse. Such people are not abandoned by God, or consigned to loneliness. God’s anti-loneliness initiative isn’t confined to married people. Remember, marriage is a sign of God’s provision for loneliness; it is not itself the provision. For those who are not called to marriage, God has other creative ways of combating loneliness and ministering to the need for companionship.

The second complication is that many who do get married are not capable of sustaining the commitment. There are a lot of different reasons for this, and we could spend the rest of the day talking about them. Jesus attributes it to “hardness of heart,” and I think that may be a pretty good summary of the reasons most marriage that don’t last don’t last. But in any case, sometimes marriages just die, and they need to be amputated the way a diseased arm or leg is amputated when it threatens the health of the rest of the body. It may be necessary, but it’s always tragic, and always a sign of the power of sin and death in human experience.

Marriage can be a wondrous experience of God’s provision and love for those who are called to it and receive the grace to sustain their commitment, though it’s never easy, and all marriages are flawed in some way because the people in them are flawed. But even for those who are not called to marriage, and for those who have heard the call but fallen short in their attempts to respond, it is still a sign that God understands—indeed, God has decreed—that it is “not good” that we should be alone.

In the classic fairy tale of Hansel & Gretel, the children leave a trail of bread crumbs as they make their way deeper and deeper into the forest, hoping that those same crumbs will, in time, lead them out of the forest and back home. Marriage—both the concept of marriage, and the actual marriages that human beings are involved in—marriage is a sign that all of our relationships—marriages, families, friends, companions—all our relationships are like Hansel & Gretel’s breadcrumbs. They lead us into relationship with God, a relationship that is transparent and intimate, and which alone shows us our true selves. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

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