Jesus said: “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Jesus’ words are appropriate for more than wedding ceremonies, though that is when we hear them most often. They are meant for more than premarital conferences, though they form the basis for what is discussed with prospective brides and grooms in our parish. Given what has transpired in the past three years since the Church has last read these words together in sanctuaries around our nation, it is good that our ears hear them again.
Our Lord speaks of what He has designed for man and woman. “From the beginning of creation,” it has been this way. Before the birth of Jesus, before Moses’ Law, before the Fall into sin, the Lord God had willed that a man would find a helper suitable for him, and so He created one from the man and gave it to him. They were to be bound together for eternity, for what the Lord God had united, none of His creatures was to separate.
But the Fall into sin corrupted this arrangement. Even during the temptation of Eve, a rift was being created between her and her husband. Did she trust Adam’s words which repeated the Lord God’s command? Did she believe that this was for her benefit? Or would the woman seek out what was not meant for her, thinking that her judgment was greater than her husband’s restating of her Creator’s will?
You know the answer. In her desire to be like God, Eve abandoned what the Lord God had given her: perfection and the care of her husband. Led by her hardened heart, she left what was safe, perfect, and good, exchanging it for much, much less. But not only did Eve do this, Adam did so as well, forsaking the Lord God’s design and decree.
It is the same with their descendants. For all who are born according to nature think and act likewise. Out of the hardness of their hearts, they refuse to conform to the Lord God’s will. They do not walk in His ways or fear Him, let alone love Him. And it is even so concerning the institution which the Lord God had designed and established “from the beginning of creation.”
Jesus says: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” His words are applied to the matter of divorce. Rightly so, for they are spoken in response to the Pharisees’ question regarding that matter: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” But the Lord’s statement has greater application. It refers to anything which would jeopardize and damage the institution of marriage and the Lord God’s design for it. Anything which questions whether marriage is a union of one man and one woman. Anything that would lead to a husband not holding fast to his wife. Anything that questions whether it is the Lord God who unites husbands and wives together.
It doesn’t matter who initiates such divisive things. For the tempting question—“Did God really say . . . ?”—can come from any sinful person’s mouth. It can be spoken by the Serpent’s mouth. But it can even spew out of the mouths of people who bear titles of honor among the Lord God’s people. Note again who bring the question to Jesus: the Pharisees ask about the lawfulness of dissolving what God has brought together. So it should not surprise that there are those who bear the title bishop, teaching theologian, biblical scholar, task force chairman, and voting delegate who also whisper in voice or writing: “Did God really say that ‘a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’?”
But there is forgiveness for all those who have attempted to separate what the Lord God has joined together, as it is for all who repent of their error. The promise of redemption was given the very first time that the Lord God’s decrees were broken. That redemption was delivered by the same One who addressed the hardness of people’s hearts and Moses’ command, the One who abided by the divine decree concerning marriage.
The author of Hebrews wrote: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through the fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” This is what took place in the Incarnation of Christ, so that you who are flesh and blood may be rescued from your slavery to death and sin—even the thoughts and actions contrary to the divine design of marriage.
By His death, Jesus has destroyed Satan for you. By His holiness, Jesus has given righteousness to you. By His resurrection, Jesus has given true life to you were once were dead. Jesus’ actions were not to help angels, but to aid you who were destined for eternal condemnation, as you substituted your will for the Lord God’s. Through His actions, the Lord Jesus sets you right, so that you may walk in His ways and fear the Lord God, as today’s psalm describes. And all who do so are given the Lord God’s blessedness.
This is what has been given to you because of Jesus’ right actions, even His own abiding by the divine design for marriage. The author of Hebrews provided a very interesting description of Jesus’ incarnation: “Therefore He had to be made like His brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.” Those two sentences are full of meaning, even concerning the divine design for marriage.
Jesus was “like His brothers in every respect.” This was so, even as the Lord God says what a man will do. Remember the Lord’s statement: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Jesus has done this, for He has taken a wife. He left His Father’s dwelling place in heaven and came down to this earth. And in His salvific work, “He loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” The Church is Jesus’ Bride for eternity.
But Jesus also “suffered when tempted,” so that “He is able to help those who are being temtped.” As His wife, the Church on earth gives all sorts of reasons for Jesus to be rid of her. Yet such temptation is not followed through. Instead, Jesus “holds fast to His wife,” not letting her go, not “writing a certificate of divorce and sending her away.” No, Jesus remains faithful to her. He is present with the Church, with you, to aid you when you are tempted to abandon Him who loves you and chase after another. He is here to soften your hardened hearts and renew your devotion to Him.
That devotion includes honoring what the Lord God has designed and defending what He establishes as good and salutary. This is so even with the institution of marriage: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” That applies to all of us in the Church. Let us not be the people who are whispering “Did God really say or mean this?” in our thoughts, words, or deeds. Where those questions of doubt are asked, even by those who bear ecclesiastical titles with lots of letters after their names, let us ignore them and hold fast to the truth which the Lord God has given us.
The goodness of the divine design of marriage is temporal and eternal. It is a blessing on earth for spouses who together abide by it in their unions, just as today’s psalm described. But even when it is not kept perfectly due to our errors, the divine design is upheld by Jesus. He keeps us as His Bride, cleansing us of all spots and wrinkles, so that we may partake of His eternal wedding feast in our heavenly dwelling place. Let our Lord be praised for holding fast to us, so that our union with Him which He has brought together will never be separated.
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.