I’m always amazed at the commitment that some people put in to achieve success in their chosen field. Take last weekend’s winners of the Ryder cup for example. Behind all the great performances, and also behind some of the not so great performances, were thousands of lonely hours of practice on a golf course. Is it any wonder that they celebrate their victories so excitedly! And our society recognises and values the huge commitment that they have put in.
But there are many different kinds of commitment and not all of them are equally valued by our modern society. For example, we may celebrate important wedding anniversaries in our own families, but you will rarely see wedding anniversaries mentioned in the gossip magazines or in the newspapers, even when they involve celebrities. It’s as if this type of commitment can’t be celebrated because by celebrating it we are recognising it as a value. And recognising it as a value is fine as long as it doesn’t come in conflict with another value that society sees as more important, namely the value of choice.
For our modern society freedom of choice is one of its highest values, and one that is even put above doing what is morally right. In fact nowadays, conditioned by our consumer society, many people define freedom itself as freedom to choose. But real freedom doesn’t come from being able to choose. An animal can make choices. Real freedom comes from doing what is right and good. We are made for goodness and only by choosing the good can we be truly free. Otherwise our choices only enslave us and make us miserable.
This brings us to today’s Gospel, and Jesus’ emphasis on the life-long commitment of marriage. As we can see from the disciples’ reaction this was a controversial issue even in Jesus’ time, and Moses had allowed the people to divorce. As such Jesus completely understands the difficulties that spouses encounter in their marriages, and he is very sympathetic to them. But Jesus has come to restore all things to the loving plan that the Father had for humanity from the beginning. And in that plan a man and a woman are united in one body through marriage. “So then, what God has united, man must not divide”. God, in fact, is only recognising and sealing the commitment that the couple themselves have made to one another. He is taking them at their word. And in every commitment and in every act of real love there will always be an element of the cross present, just as in today’s second reading Jesus’ suffering is the instrument of bringing “a great many of his sons into glory”.
It is interesting that in St. Mark’s Gospel Jesus’ teaching on divorce is followed by his order to his disciples to “let the little children come to me”. In God’s eyes we are all his children and he looks with mercy and love on all of our doings, even when we get things wrong. Jesus also requests that we welcome the kingdom of God like little children, and when we do this we become humbler, kinder to one another, and more open to God’s grace in our lives. Ultimately, it is this grace, and not our own efforts, that will make our marriages, our vocation choices and our lives places of love, fidelity and blessing. If at times in the Gospel Jesus seems to be setting the bar high, it is only because he deems us worthy to share in his own love, and his grace will always provide was is needed to a heart that trusts in its Lord.