Both our Old Testament and Gospel readings today talk about marriage, and then our epistle reminds us that “we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Genesis 2:18-25; Mark 10:2-16; Hebrews 2:1-18). So, it would be fitting today to talk about marriage, where it comes from, and what it is an image of.
In Genesis we read that in the beginning when God created Adam, God saw that it was not good for man to be alone, so He created Eve as Adam’s companion. Man and woman were created to join together in marriage to be one flesh, one body. They were created to correspond to one another and be each other’s partners. And then they were commissioned to be fruitful and multiply. The marriage produced children as its fruit.
And Adam and Eve were both naked, but this was before the Fall into sin, so there was no shame, no sin, no separation between Adam and Eve or between them and God or between them and creation itself. Adam and Eve were truly one flesh, and they were in perfect communion with their Lord, and they lived in a beautiful, lush Garden. This is where chapter 2 of Genesis ends: everything was perfect.
However, they soon lost this perfection. We see it in the very next chapter; Adam and Eve sin and rebel against God. This act then introduced a separation not only between them and God, but between man and woman as well, and between them and creation. The perfect marriage of Adam and Eve, who were meant to be one flesh, was marred. The sin of Adam and Eve affected all creation, and it affected their marriage as well. They were now not wholly one flesh any longer and they were embarrassed to be naked, both before each other and before God. And now they would also suffer the effects of a fallen world, with decay, sin, and death roaming about.
The main point for today, though, is that the marriage of man and woman centered around the Lord was broken due to this first sin of Adam and Eve. The Lord had brought man and woman together, and He was the glue holding them together as one flesh. But, with sin came separation, and this separation continues to affect all human relationships, because things are not now as they are meant to be.
So, sin intruded into creation and it intruded into the relationship between man and woman and among all people. The intrusion of sin into marriage has continued to haunt marriages ever since. There’s an international affairs writer named Robert Kaplan who makes the observation that you can tell a lot about a culture and society by the way it treats its women. In societies that put women down, objectivize them, or minimize their role, then you tend to see societies that are inward-looking and backward.
Robert Kaplan, perhaps inadvertently, hits on a Biblical truth. For God’s purpose in creating Eve was not for Adam to have someone to serve and wait on him. He wasn’t creating Eve as a pet or servant for Adam. No, the Lord was making a companion for Adam, and Adam and Eve were to be as one flesh, because they were both incomplete without the other. They were made to correspond to one another; that’s what it means when the Lord said that He would make a helper fit for Adam. That phrase in the Hebrew means that the Lord was making someone to correspond to Adam, to be the right one for Adam, to be the only one that could complete Adam; and in turn Adam was the completion of Eve. So, Adam and Eve were created to be with each other, and man and woman ever since were created to be one with one another in marriage to correspond and complete each other. St. John Chrysostom is credited as saying, “The husband and wife should be similar to the hand and the eye. When the hand hurts, the eyes should be crying. And when the eyes cry, the hand should wipe away the tears.”
But, in our sinful world, we mess this up, just like we mess everything else up. Man and woman are tempted to use each other and to value each other only insofar as they are useful to each other. Sin continues to intrude into the marriage relationship. And you see this in the Gospel reading today as well.
The Pharisees come up to Jesus with a question, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Notice that here, as in many places in the Gospels, Jesus answers a question that is meant to test him with another question. Jesus turns the tables on the Pharisees by asking them instead, “What did Moses command you?”
The Pharisees answered, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” Wow, “send her away,” that’s pretty cold; it’s like what you do when you’re done with something that you no longer have any use for – you send it away to get it out of your sight. You go look for something else. It’s the evidence of sin in this world that we send people away when they’re no longer useful to us.
And the Pharisees are people, just like you and me, and so they are not immune to this sin; they’re sinners, just as we all are. And sending your wife away is a pretty harsh thing, especially in the ancient world. Sending a woman away was tantamount to plunging her into poverty and possibly death. Things were not meant to be this way.
And indeed, Jesus points this out. Moses didn’t write this commandment because it was good or God-pleasing. No, “because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.” The sad, unfortunate, fact is that in our fallen world relationships are tainted with sin and sometimes marriages fall apart. But, this was not how it was meant to be. Divorce is a symptom of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin. It may be deemed necessary at times in our fallen world, but God did not intend for this to occur.
Instead, as Jesus notes, in the beginning God made humanity male and female. Each one has its role to play and each one is incomplete without the other. And male and female are to join together in marriage to become one flesh. This is the will of God and the way He has made us. That’s why from an early age we long for that which will correspond to us. And that’s why it is so important to find the right partner and wait until the one we think we love truly does correspond to us. For, Jesus concludes by saying, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Marriage was ordained by the Lord and is pleasing to Him, because through marriage His creatures are joined together as one to fill the earth. Marriage is so important to Him that it comes in Genesis 2. Think about that. Genesis 1 records God’s creation of all that exists: all the earth, stars, this entire universe; and then in Genesis 2 God creates man and woman to be together; “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
But, divorce happens; marriages fall apart, spouses do separate, people do send the one that corresponds to them away. These are all symptoms of our fallen world in which we live. But, this is not how God intends things to be.
So, what if we had a picture of how marriage was meant to be? What if we could see a model of the relationship that husband and wife are to have with each other?
Well, we have that picture with Christ and His Church. Throughout the Bible, the Lord often refers to Himself as the groom and the Church, Israel, as the Bride. And in Ephesians 5, Paul exhorts wives to submit themselves to their husbands as the Church submits to Christ. Lest we stop there and let our sin cause us to think that this means that husbands are supposed to be cruel masters, Paul continues by exhorting husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
For, Christ died for His Church to cleanse it and present it in righteousness before His Father, like how a proud groom presents his wife to his parents. So, the Church is the body of Christ, because she is his bride. And in marriage man and woman become one body as well, which is why it makes perfect, loving sense for each to love and submit to the other – because they’re one body. They are one. Paul concludes by saying, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32).
But, this relationship that we as the Church have with Christ our husband is also tainted by our sin. In fact, in the Old Testament, when the people of Israel went after other gods and committed idolatry, the Lord charged them with committing adultery against Him. They were breaking the marriage relationship that they had with their husband. And in the New Testament, Jesus refers to the “adulterous and wicked generation” in which he lived, because people were not worshipping the true Lord God, but rather themselves and their own works. They were breaking the marriage relationship by going after others.
But, the Lord is a faithful groom. Even when his bride, the Church, strays from Him, He never leaves. He is the perfect husband who always loves his wife. And the Church is called to be the wife who is always faithful to her husband. For through this marriage between Christ and His Church, new children of God are produced. Children of God are birthed through Word and Sacrament, Christ’s gifts to the Church and his means through which the Church produces children.
So, the Church is composed of children of God. And we are called children for good reason. Children don’t try to earn the favor of their father. They don’t try to work for what they receive from their father. They simply receive their father’s love and the gifts their father gives and try to live in a way pleasing to him.
Likewise, the children of God receive all good things from our Father by His grace for the sake of Christ. We are constantly in a position of receiving from God; we don’t give Him anything He does not already have, just like when kids buy Christmas gifts for their parents, they’re really spending their parents’ money. So, we as part of the Church are God’s children who return to the Lord what he has first given us.
Now, at this point in the Gospel reading today, the disciples don’t quite understand yet what it means to be the children of God. For when the people were bringing children to Jesus so that he may bless them, the disciples rebuked the people. They seem to be thinking, similar to the scribes and Pharisees, that Church is only for adults. They think, “You need to grow up a little before you can come to Jesus. You need to be old enough to be able to accept him. You need to bring him something for him to receive you.”
But, these thoughts are all wrong, because the Church is composed of children born of water and the Word. The Lord births us as His children through the means of grace that He gives His Church. And so when Jesus saw that his disciples were trying to prevent the children from coming to him, he was angry and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And then Jesus took the children in his arms and blessed them.
What does it mean to receive the kingdom of God like a child? Children know how to receive gifts. To receive the kingdom of God like a child means to receive God’s grace and mercy through Christ as the gift that it is. We didn’t earn it, we didn’t deserve it, and yet God gave it to us anyway. We didn’t do something to get our earthly parents to give birth to us, and we didn’t do something to get our heavenly Father to birth us into new life through Christ. We deserve a lump of coal, but God gives us the free forgiveness of our sins and life everlasting and makes us His children through Christ.
So, you are the children whom God has given Christ and birthed through His bride, the Church. You have been born of the water and the Word in Baptism. You have been nourished with the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. You have been fed with the proclaimed Word of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Everything you have you received from God: your life, God’s forgiveness of all your sins, and life everlasting. This is a gift.
So, when Christ returns for you, you will be perfected in the life to come and you and all the Church will be presented in eternity before Him as a bride adorned for her husband. Amen.
(Image: The Marriage at Cana, Codex Egberti, ~ 980 AD, by Unknown – Codex Egberti, Fol 20v, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8096710)