Becoming one flesh Gn 2:18-24; Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6; Heb 2:9-11; Mk 10:2-16 On this Sunday, when a priest or deacon gets up to preach in almost any parish in our country (and elsewhere too), the congregation will include two groups of people: couples working hard to keep their marriage alive and intact, and others who are divorced and perhaps remarried. How does the preacher proclaim the Gospel message to both with fidelity and compassion? Mark’s Gospel portrays what most interpreters consider Jesus’ original teaching about marriage and divorce. His Pharisee opponents ask him a leading question: “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” In Deuteronomy 24:1-4, the law of Moses permits divorce; the debate at the time of Jesus was about the sufficient cause for divorce (Matthew’s version of this passage reflects this point, adding to the Pharisees’ question the phrase, “for any cause?”). Jesus answers without compromise: Moses permitted divorce only “because of the hardness of your hearts.” Citing the same passage as our first reading from Genesis, Jesus declares that God’s original intent was no divorce: “What God has joined together, no human being must separate.” Jesus presses home his point: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” While the religious leaders of his time earnestly debated the question of divorce, Jesus reaches back to the original ideal of God’s creation. The text Jesus quotes is one of the Bible’s most foundational passages. Like the beautiful opening chapter of the Bible, this second account of creation in Genesis 2 affirms that God, the author of all life, created the world and, in particular, the human person out of love. Alone among the beauty of creation, the human, male and female, is created in God’s own image (Gn 1:26-27). The first reading for today from Genesis 2 picks up that astounding assertion. The human is like God because men and women are capable of choice, of intentionality, and, above all, of the quality of love that reflects God’s own indescribable and creative love. The human is also to share in God’s love for all creation. Today’s passage shows an expression of that unique human dignity and responsibility in the God-given authority to name the various creatures God has fashioned. It is in this affirmation of the capacity of the human to love as God loves and to share in God’s creative power, that the call appears for men and women to leave their parental home and to become “one flesh.” So deep and so powerful is the mutual love of husband and wife that they become “one flesh.” The passage Jesus cites from the Scriptures is not a commentary on divorce but a compelling vision of the human capacity for love and fidelity. Married love, as we heard a few Sundays ago in the reading from Ephesians, reflects Christ’s own love for his people. It would be hard to surpass the beauty of the Christian ideal of married love expressed in these biblical passages. This, of course, makes the pastoral challenge of divorce all the more difficult. Few couples who have experienced divorce would describe it as anything less than painful and sad. Most young couples yearn for a lifelong mutual love commitment. But the pressures on marriage are strong, especially in our culture where many of the traditional social and familial supports for marriage are often absent. The romantic ideal of the nuclear family can also be a psychological and spiritual burden for many couples. Pope Francis reminded us in his exhortation on marriage, “The Joy of Love,” that the church must remain faithful to Jesus’ teaching about the ideal of enduring and faithful love between husband and wife, for the sake of Christian life and for the good of society itself. But, as is the case with all of us, we are fallible and often fall short of our deepest ideals and longings. Thus, the church is called also in the spirit of Jesus to be compassionate, to stand by and support those whose marriages have failed yet who seek to live an authentic Christian life.