27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

First, I want to get this out of the way. Jesus’ closest friends happened to all be men, and were unaccustomed to taking care of children. So they thought they would look out for him, after a long day on his feet, teaching, healing, and driving out demons. And they determined for whatever reasons, apparently without first consulting Jesus, that it was not in his best interest to be hanging out with children and their mothers. They must have been exhausted, hungry, and cranky. They figured Jesus was, too. But they were wrong. The moral of the story: Jesus was human like us in many ways. But he would often rise above people’s expectations. We can as well. Often it is still a choice.

Recently, I was re-caulking my shower, removing the old caulk before applying the new caulk. And I stumbled upon a world of not so pleasant realities. Now I am not a delicate person who prefers a life of ease and luxury. I grew up with younger siblings, which knocked me down a peg or two. And I might squirm a bit when I see blood and guts and other Halloween horrors, but I don’t in confession, which gives me a front seat in the theatre of human weakness. So as I was removing the old caulk, I had to scrape and scour and wash away soap scum sedimentation, along with layers of indeterminate discolored human detritus—which, since no one else but I use this shower, is all mine anyway. Then it hit me. I can always get someone else to do this dirty work, and easily shield myself from the messiness that is essential to being alive and making a life.

Some of life’s messiness is a direct consequence of being alive. We have zits, nose bleeds, eye goop, runny noses, stuffy noses, boogers, ear wax, hacking, coughing, cuts, scrapes, nausea, toe jam, and all kinds of digestive system related episodes.

Then there is messiness that comes from making a life. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living. If you interact with fellow human beings or any living things, if you interact with any inanimate objects, or if you work under unusual circumstances or in unpredictable conditions, you can guarantee it will be a messy affair, that someone or something will make a mess, or that someone or something will leave a mess.

Life is a parade of icky, awesome, glorious messes, which it seems we are  constantly dreading, ignoring, bracing for, preventing, avoiding when we can, dodging when we can’t, patiently enduring, stepping away from, cleaning off, picking up the pieces, rationalizing, and hopefully learning from. Messes that cause a lot more grief often involve our capacity to make free choices. Human relationships especially have great potential for being messy, even the good parts, especially the good parts. For a relationship to succeed, everything needs to succeed, or at the least obstacles are not insurmountable. But for a relationship to fail, the bar is way lower. Add to that how each of us is a complex bundle of reality, risk, potential; emotions, convictions; doubt, courage, insecurity, hope; fear, joy; strength, weakness; dreams, nightmares; innocence, malice; snips, snails, and puppy dog tails; sugar, spice, and everything nice; poetry, prayer, song; water, gas, mud, and attitude; failure is often just around the corner. Of course, I’m exaggerating. Or am I?

But messy is not automatically bad. It’s simply evidence of our humanity. We are a glorified pile of dust after all. Just add a little moisture and your pile of dust is mud. What can be messier than mud? You’re probably thinking of other ways right now. But let’s focus instead on the lesson that today’s scripture readings place before us.

The question the Pharisees posed to Jesus was specifically about divorce. Is it lawful? We have to recall that the Pharisees were very familiar with the Law of Moses, and probably knew that the Law did not explicitly forbid divorce. Whatever Moses permitted was because of Israel’s hardness of heart. And Jesus takes the occasion to remind them of God’s plan as articulated in Genesis. He quotes from both accounts of the creation story, that in Chapter 1, God created human beings in his own image, both male and female[1]; and in Chapter 2, that the relationship between husband and wife ranks above relationships between other family members[2]. Then he adds, “No one must separate what God has joined together.”[3]

Later his disciples revisit the question, and Jesus ventures into new territory. He says husbands and wives are equally responsible for the success and the failure of their marriage. Moses’ permission gave the power only to husbands. But in recognizing both women and men to be created in the divine image, he was acknowledging how either one can be going against God’s design.

Which brings us to how the church addresses the issue of divorce today. Our Catholic faith teaches in the Catechism that the ministers of the sacrament of marriage are the husband and wife when they declare in freedom their consent to marry[4]. The church minister, who is a priest or deacon, receives the consent of the spouses, in effect declaring that conditions required by the proper church authority have been met, and the marriage is recognized as valid. The public liturgical celebration of the marriage of baptized persons with the church’s minister and the Christian community is recognition of the role of God and the community of faith in the partnership of the spouses. It’s a big deal. It means that when a marriage falls apart, even for entirely unquestionable and legitimate reasons, there is still a presumption of validity that must be overturned. If the proper church authority had declared the marriage to be valid, only the proper church authority, after a thorough examination, can overturn a presumption of validity. And when that declaration of validity is lacking to begin with, as when Catholics choose not to observe the church’s laws, the presumption of validity is withheld.

A civil divorce bypasses the role of the church in the life of its members. It is no surprise that human relationships can be messy. As hopeful and positive as we want to be, people will still make bad choices, people will still make mistakes. Moses still found the need to permit the dissolution of the marriage covenant because of the hardness of people’s hearts. And the church has to navigate between the ideal and the real in the life of God’s people. But it is not the end of the world. Jesus came among us to teach, to find the lost, to feed the hungry, to heal the broken, to reconcile the sinner, to raise the dead. By this he tells us that no one is beyond God’s reach. We cannot turn anyone away because Jesus did not turn anyone away. Even Christian life can be messy, an icky, awesome, glorious mess. This is the same human nature Jesus took on. And with it he brought about our salvation. Messy is not automatically bad. But we still need to hope for the best, and do the best that we can. You can’t apply new caulk unless you scrape off old caulk. And yes, it’s still easier than moving to a new house.

Rolo B Castillo © 2018

[1]Genesis 1: 27

[2]Genesis 2: 24

[3]Mark 10: 9

[4]Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1623, #1625-1632