They replied, ‘Moses allowed us to draw up a writ of dismissal in cases of divorce.’
Then Jesus said to them, ‘It was because you were so hard hearted that he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation he made them male and female. This is why a man leaves his father and mother, and the two become one flesh. They are no longer two, therefore, but one flesh.
This passage from the Gospel of Mark (10: 4-8) was used in the faith evening I attended in the parish last night. Our topic was the sacrament of marriage, about which much may be said. Time was limited, so we didn’t get beyond the basic of Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body and related issues. But the above Gospel passage stuck with me, because it, and a passage from Genesis which we’ll get to, illustrates very well what God’s intentions were when he created humans man and woman, and that marriage is the oldest sacrament, instituted at the time of creation.
The Gospel passage follows a question from the Pharisees who wanted to test Jesus about His knowledge and loyalty to God. They asked Him if a man could divorce his wife. Jesus then asks them what Moses taught them (Moses in this case being very much the father of Judaic law and moral teaching). Their answer and Jesus’ subsequent explanation show that divorce is only allowed because people are stubborn, because they are unwilling or unable to follow God’s intentions with creation. Because sin has come into the world.
But it was different in the beginning. That beginning we obviously find at the beginning of the Bible, in one of the two creation stories (Gen. 2: 23a-24):
And the man said: This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh! […] This is why a man leaves his father and mother and becomes attached to his wife, and they become one flesh.
These lines follow the creation of Eve, the equal companion to man. Adam’s words show an innate knowledge that the two, man and woman, complement each other, that become not just attached, but one flesh, one life. This is the institution of marriage (a sacrament, by the way, not administered by God, but by man and woman together). It is clear that this is what Jesus refers to in the Gospel of Mark.
Summarising my conclusion from last night: no one can do it alone. In order to live a full life, full according to the the intentions of God, he or she must become one with another. This most fully achieved in marriage, the union of man and woman who complement one another. Other vocations also achieve this: a priest is united to God, as is a hermit. Religious men and woman are united to God and to the community they live in.
Marriage really is rather unique sacrament. It spiritually and mentally unites a man and a woman, it bears visible fruit in the form of children and it is entered into out of free will and administered not by a priest, but by the man and woman themselves. Considering this unique nature, it is no wonder that God chose to include it in creation from the very start. The other sacraments followed later as circumstances dictated, but marriage was intended to be an integral part of the makeup of humans.