I am something of a 90s tragic, and so I turn for our text today to song four of the second album of the Spice Girls: Viva forever. As they teach us, true love is Everlasting. Of course, and this is where Jesus says something different, eternal love cannot be found in my spouse. For Jesus today, there are no married soulmates. Marriage is not forever. Why?
It’s because our heart, our soul, is not made for and can never be fulfilled by the other. Our heart desires to be perfectly loved, all the time, without limit, and without mistakes. The problem of course is that there is no husband or wife who can do that. Not because they’re a horrible person, but because we are all sinners. They do love us, but sometimes make mistakes, are not always there, don’t always give themselves totally, and one day will definitely be gone. So they don’t fulfil our soul’s desire for perfect unending love. And we create burdens for our marriage if we place such unrealistic demands on our spouse.
This is not to say that we don’t have a soulmate: we each have a soulmate and his name is Jesus. Unlike our earthly spouse, Jesus has loved us since all eternity, and will love us for all eternity. Unlike our earthly spouse, once baptised he never leaves us alone, wherever we go. And unlike our spouse on earth Jesus gives himself perfectly to us.
And this is what marriage means. Marriage reminds all of society that perfect love is the measure of a good life, that only God is our soulmate, and that human society only finds itself in receiving and responding to his love. Marriage also serves as a school of love, teaching the spouses and children that love means unceasing patience and hope and service.
Reflecting about marriage with Jesus thus makes it very easy to see the problems with trying to change the definition of marriage. For one thing, such arguments don’t seem to take into account the meaning of marriage, the love of God, or the fact that earthly marriage is not even a blip compared to an eternal marriage with perfect Good.
A second point concerns the simplest argument we hear for it: that people should be allowed to love who they want. It’s a strange argument, because (1) people can already love who they want – no legislation could ever change that – and (2) it suggests the state can regulate who I love, can regulate my heart: which is of course ridiculous.
Thirdly, as the gospel tells us, the pharisees clearly understand marriage as a (1) unity of man and woman (2) for eternity (3) open to the gift of children. Now what’s interesting for us is what Jesus corrects and what he doesn’t. He does correct them about eternity – marriage ends at death, he says. But he doesn’t correct them about marriage being the kind of relationship only a man and a woman can do: nor does he correct their assumption that in any marriage, the nature of their unity be open to children. In fact he does the very opposite – he goes on to confirm what they said: The children of this world take wives and husbands.
As we see in the news, some people would say this makes Jesus a bigot or a hater. Given he is well-known as about the only person of his time to stand up for the poor and excluded, that wouldn’t make sense. Maybe Jesus doesn’t want to shock the standards of his time? That doesn’t make sense either, as he was happy to get himself killed for his views. Or maybe, Jesus was making a mistake? But God doesn’t make mistakes – so maybe he’s right.
Because clearly Jesus is determined to encourage and build up the unique gift that marriage is. And this make sense beyond religion. As the Australian Bishops highlighted last year, part of what makes marriage so uniquely good is:- the complimentary difference of man and woman which make their physical and spiritual unity, their “one flesh” possible; that this union is inherently disposed to a flow of children from their love; and that it respects and supports the child’s “need and natural right to a mother and father.”(1) Trying to change marriage takes away these beautiful things – key basics, in fact, of human society.
- Don’t Mess With Marriage, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, 2015, pp. 6, 11.