I've been doing a little back and forth on matters related to marriage, human sexuality, and the role of the Christian churches at this post. A point I made early on is that the Christian churches in America have, by and large, forfeited any coherent, Biblical approach to matters relating to marriage and the dynamics of human interpersonal relationships generally; taking a punitive approach, for instance, to the fruits of out-of-wedlock sexuality (i.e., not blessing a child born out of wedlock within the congregation), absent any evidence of a coherent approach to larger matters is not only mean-spirited and lacking in grace. It is just further evidence that, particularly in those quarters who hold up the Bible and insist we are to live by it, the churches really have no clue.
It seems fitting, then, that today's office reading is from the Gospel of St. Mark, the first sixteen verses of chapter 10, in which Jesus is challenged by the Pharisees regarding the Mosaic law concerning marriage and divorce. These verses, ripped apart and put back together again, Frankenstein-like, have been used for everything from hating on gays to punishing women for adulterous behavior, even though Jesus does happen to mention men, too. Rather than creative exegesis, let's just look at the questions and Jesus' answers.
Jesus is asked about the particular legal codes regarding marriage and divorce. He asks the Pharisees if they know what they are, to which they give a nice, summary answer. Jesus' response is quite simple - the Law is wrong. When a man and a woman marry, it isn't about feeling all warm and gooey inside; it isn't about getting tax benefits; it isn't because they are soul-mates whose lives are forever, inextricably intertwined. Nope, a man and a woman, joined in marriage are so joined by God. As to the why's and wherefore's, Jesus offers not a clue. Simply put, all Jesus is saying here is that, once folks get married, they are changed. They are no longer two people, but joined together - again, he doesn't explain it, he just says "they are one flesh" - they are something altogether different.
A careful reader would be forgiven for thinking he is showing the way marriage is related to the life of the Christian, a new creation in the risen Christ. This is, quite simply put, one of many proleptic passages in which Jesus offers a view of the resurrection and the life awaiting us. Reading this as a marriage manual absent this context - sharing in the life of the resurrected Jesus - is only getting part of the story.
Sad to say, our churches, whether mainstream or marginal, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Evangelical, however one wishes to describe them, are incoherent on matters relating to marriage because they start talking about marriage rather than talking about the resurrection of Jesus. They start talking about family rather than talking about the resurrection of Jesus. They start talking about human relationships before they start talking about the resurrection of Jesus. In this passage, Jesus is offering us a whole new way of thinking about and talking about marriage, one rooted in his own life and passion and resurrection.
It might be nice if our churches started talking about marriage in the way Jesus is talking about it here. It might be nice if the churches started talking about marriage in any way other than the way they currently talk about it. It would be nice if we began any discussion on matters of human relationships talking about Jesus, crucified and risen, rather than talking about other stuff first. Our incoherence on matters regarding marriage, the family, sex, and an abundance of other matters falter because he have an agenda that keeps us from talking, first and foremost, about Jesus crucified and risen.