Discipleship (4): The Marriage of Christian Disciples

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 3, 2021

St. Paul – Lyons, KS

Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 128:1-6; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16

The Fruit of Sin: Division

In life, there are all of those events that you are forced to go to, and then before they will just get on with whatever it is you’re there for, they make you do icebreakers. One of these “games” was get to know you questions—I mean, of course, why wouldn’t I want to tell a total stranger by favorite holiday and why? But one question would always come up, so I just had a pat answer so we could all move on with life.

The question was: “What is your greatest fear?” And I would always say, “Losing a friend and it being my fault.” I started saying that when I was like twelve years old. I don’t even know what I meant when I started using it. But I would always say, “Losing a friend and it being my fault.” Not a friend dying, no. Like, breaking a friendship, destroying a relationship in my life, and its destruction being my fault. At twelve, you don’t really have the wherewithal to really do that. But as I got older I found that it’s actually not that hard. Sin and pride and resentment are real things. And relationships break.

That’s the scene in the opening pages of the human story, in the book of Genesis. The Spirit of God hovers over the waters, bringing all of creation into existence, crowning this creation with God’s own image on earth, these humans. And humanity is in this united, faithful, life-giving, loving relationship with God and with all of creation. But then it all falls apart. Why? Because God is unfaithful? Because the world is flawed? No. It’s pride, sin. And when sin is a real thing, when sin grows, the fruit of sin grows too. Sin has a lot of different fruit, but the most common are broken relationships, violence, and death. And so where there was once this great unity and life, there begins to be only division and death.

This is not abstract. This is real. And if it’s “abstract,” you’re either too young to know what this is like, or you might be a sociopath—one of the two. From almost the very beginning, humanity, we have been struggling with this. And from the beginning, God has been working to set things right, to renew all of His creation, a creation that’s falling apart because of Sin. This is what it is all about: God renewing all of creation, setting everything right.

“New Covenant” As the Means of New Creation

So how is God going to do it, set things right, renew creation, fix things? Covenants. We can talk more about covenants another day (because they’re crazy important), but real quick: a covenant is a committed relationship—think of marriage. It’s a relationship between two parties where there are promises and commitments. 

So what’s the big deal with covenants? Well, God’s plan is that by establishing a covenant with certain people (a smaller group of people) He would begin to establish this covenant with more and more people. In other words, by establishing a new relationship with certain people, He would renew His relationship with all people, with creation itself. Through them, through this “covenant people,” He would bring about the renewal of all of creation. This is the story of scripture, the story we’re all a part of.

God establishes a covenant with a family, then moves to a tribe, then a nation, then an international kingdom. He began with the family of Noah, continued with the tribe of Abraham, then the nation of Israel with Moses, and then the kingdom of David. But none of those seem to work. They’re all too external, and they are not getting at the root of the issue.

And so along comes the prophets. And a common theme of theirs is about God making a new covenant. And not just another covenant, but a new and everlasting covenant. Think of Jeremiah: “See, days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant.” But even then, nothing seemed to change, nothing seemed to be different. Sin, division, violence, death—doin great! So what were the prophets talking about?

This is the world Jesus steps into, the hope he fulfills. The Gospels consistently describe his job as beginning this work of new creation, the work of reversing the fruits, the effects of Sin. And he really begins to do this. We all know the stories of him literally “forgiving sins.” But he also reverses the division and the broken relationships and the violence caused by Sin. And in the extreme? He reverses even death itself. The ultimate division caused by Sin, death—not even death can separate us any longer. Through Jesus there is a newness at work.

But Jesus hasn’t established this new covenant just yet. Establishing a covenant—in biblical terms—involves blood. It takes blood. And so on the night before he died, Jesus took the chalice, filled with the fruit of the vine, and giving thanks, he gave it to the disciples saying, “Take this and drink. This is the blood of the new and eternal covenant.” The very next day, having breathed his last, a soldier thrusts his spear into Jesus’ side, piercing his heart, and immediately there comes forth blood and water. The covenant is established, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

Disciples: Agents of (re)New(ed) Creation

Why do I tell you all of this?? Because all of this is precisely the framework that the idea of discipleship and being Jesus’ disciples fits into! The question we should always be asking is, “What does it look like and mean to follow Jesus, to be his disciple in my daily life?” Because usually we tell ourselves a gospel that’s not even the gospel. We tell ourselves the “gospel” of, “Jesus wants us to love one another, and be a good person, and be kind.” And I get it, I’m not saying you shouldn’t do those things. But that really empties the gospel of its power and radicalness. This story is the worldview and framework that discipleship fits into. We usually start with politics and hot-button issues. But no, this is the story, this is the framework you gotta be working with.

As a disciple (remember), we’re not just supposed to learn certain facts or rules from Jesus. As a disciple we are called to be in an intimate and abiding relationship with Jesus; we are called to share in his mission, in his work—in other words, his work of renewing creation, reversing Sin and Death, counteracting the power of sin; we are called, ultimately, to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. In other words: to not just walk after him but follow the pattern of his life (Bede); set aside a life of self-invention and self-reliance, and instead to follow him on the path of complete dependence on and trust in and obedience to the Father. Why? Because that is how this new covenant which will fix everything was established, and how it will be continued.

When we say in the Creed each week that Jesus “was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man,” we’re saying that Jesus entered into an indissoluble unity with humanity—he shared the “one flesh” with us, our humanity. And then in his life, his life was defined by complete fidelity—he was faithful, always faithful to the Father, even to the point of death. And because of that, he bore the fruit not of Sin, but the fruit of God’s Spirit, God’s Spirit who was at work when the world was first created—from his side is born the fruit of a new and renewed humanity.

Do you see that? Jesus’ mission, the one he wants us to share in through a life of discipleship—Jesus’s mission is characterized by an indissoluble unity, fidelity, and fruitfulness. He is indissolubly united with the one human flesh. His life is marked by fidelity. And in this way, he is fruitful: a new and renewed humanity is born from his side.

Marriage: Unity & Indissolubility, Fidelity, Fruitfulness

So in this Gospel today, when Jesus starts talking about marriage, and how “from the beginning God made them male and female,” what he’s doing is pointing to this entire narrative. [Moses made permissions and exceptions not because he was so progressive and understood that monogamy was outdate, no. The permission was given by Moses more as a way of legally protecting the woman. And again, the only reason that needed to exist was because Sin runs rampant—the division and broken relationships caused by Sin are a real thing. “But from the beginning” it was not so.]

Marriage is not just being with the person you like hanging out with. Marriage isn’t being with the person you think is going to make you happy. Marriage isn’t any of these things. Christian marriage, the marriage of Christian disciples, is one way that the mission of Christ is carried on even to this day. And what are the hallmarks of marriage? Shock and surprise: indissoluble unity, fidelity, and fruitfulness (Catechism 1643-1654). In marriage, there is this embodiment of a renewed unity in mankind. Every marriage is a sacrament, a sign of the love and fidelity of Christ for his Church. And in this unity and faithfulness, there is fruit—the growth in holiness of the couple and children.

Marriage isn’t just a partnership—it’s a covenant. And what does God use covenants for? Exactly: renewing all of creation. By establishing a new relationship with a certain person, a couple begins to renew the relationship among all people. That’s why marriage isn’t just a “travel buddy for life,” a “best friend for life,” a “financial help”—sure, that’s involved. But marriage, Christian marriage, marriage as it was “from the beginning of creation,” is this indissolubly united, faithful and fruitful partnership—a participation in the divine work of creation. There is a great mystery there, made even more profound because it is now bound up in the (paschal) mystery of Christ.

That’s why marriage must constantly come back to the Eucharist—the sacrament of unity, the faithful and abiding presence of Christ, the fruit of the new Tree of Life. Only in this great mystery, only in the strength given by this fruit can this “crazy ideal” of marriage be lived out. 

Because remember: we always have to go back to the framework of what has happened and what God is doing about it. And so yeah, if “marriage” is people that want to hang out, have financial benefits, and travel together—yeah, marriage isn’t a big deal, do whatever you want. But when we see that marriage is an incredibly powerful and intimate sharing in the life and mission of Christ, everything changes. The Church has so much to say on marriage, not because she’s prudish and outdated and controlling, no. The Church has so much to say because marriage is such a gift, and it wants to protect and cherish that gift. That’s why we should work to support married couples, because marriage isn’t easy. And we pray, too, that married couples will come to a deeper appreciation for the great gift they’ve been given, and that they will turn to Christ more and more for the strength and grace to live out this path of discipleship given to them.

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