By Canon Gerry Conroy

We need to ask why St Mark put the two episodes in Sunday’s Gospel passage together; after all Luke didn’t report them as being together. I think it is because St Mark wants to acknowledge how difficult the saying of Jesus about divorce is and is telling us we need to
you accept the totality of the message of the Kingdom of God whole-heartedly. Jesus isn’t
backing down from what he is saying. I don’t imagine anyone can hear what he says without a bit of a shiver down their spine. We all know how harsh and unyielding it sounds. We
all know people and their pain in the face of these words. We all know people who have
walked away, who feel they have been rejected. We all know or have heard of situations
where violence means it is better for people to get out of an abusive situation. Annulments
in such situations don’t always get to the truth of a situation.
Perhaps it is worth taking another look at what Jesus is asking of people. On the one hand
it seems that he is demanding loneliness and physical frustration and hardship, perhaps
even to bear the burden of someone else’s guilt and wrongdoing. What he does is hold up
before us God’s original intention in creation: the union of man and woman in a bond that
unites them and which is a means through which they are to come to the fulness of their
That sounds all very nice – but it doesn’t take account of sin and fallen human nature which
is broken. Can such unity ever be achieved in the face of sin? In theory it can by living the
union in grace, which is what the Sacrament of Marriage is about. But what is possible in
theory is not always so easy in practice. It takes two to tango and the music must be God.
Perhaps that is why St Mark put that little story about accepting the kingdom wholeheartedly after the questions the Pharisees asked about divorce.
But there is another issue which is perhaps more peculiar to our modern age and which, I
suspect, touches on why marriages are less popular, less lasting than they once were. It’s
a modern mentality that has separated humanity more and more from nature. Technology,
has an important part to play in this, technology which is both a blessing and a curse.
Technology distances us from nature because it leads us to see that we can manipulate
the natural world, it emphasises humanity’s control over it and with such power, our all
consuming desire for freedom now also includes a desire not to be restricted by nature;
from abortion to Euthanasia, to issues of gender we want to express our freedom from the
constraints of our nature. Having once tasted such freedom, from nature itself, we do not
wish to be restricted in any way, so our relationships and marriage itself must be redefined,
which is what our society is doing.
As Christians we now face a double challenge to the teaching of Christ on marriage: the
pain of living with sin and its effects and the challenge of how to use our freedom as society as a whole struggles with the question of what it means to be human. Faith has an important insight to share on that question. But to hear it we have to accept the Kingdom of
God wholeheartedly

Canon Conroy is parish priest of St Patrick’s, Dumbarton

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