Friday, August 17, 2012

Marriage and Harlotry

Friday: 17 August, 20102 –– 19th Week in Ordinary Time
Ezekiel 16:1–15, 60, 63 / Matthew 19:3–12
Marriage and Harlotry

Our social fabric is being pulled apart. There are various ways to explain why and to describe the warring camps. I hardly hear of any which address the root issue, which has aptly been termed worldview.  How we understand reality and truth (or the absence of it) makes all the difference.

One way of seeing starts with a human point of view and has this visible world as the focus, and particularly the here-and-now. Tradition and ancient wisdom are questionable because as Moderns, living in such a technological “Information Age,” we supposedly know so much more than previous generations that preceded us. Happiness is a central value; immediacy, convenience and comfort are ways we measure happiness. Good and bad, right and wrong are hard to nail down; such things are judged situationally and pragmatically. The final arbiter of authority is, at best, the collective human wisdom of the day. Human “freedom” is autonomous.

The other way of seeing starts with a two-fold confession: first, the belief that God –– a Being  beyond far beyond our own consciousness, individually or collectively –– exists;  second, there is an awareness –– an attitude, even a confession –– that our “good” is dependent on understanding the purpose(s) of God.

It should be obvious that if we start with human wisdom and autonomy, the answers we get to life’s questions will be different than the answers we get when we start with God. The Bible gives us extended stories which show that difference –– the difference between choosing to seek and obey God, or choosing to go our own way and do whatever we think might most conveniently make us happy.

This is the framework in which to understand the Ezekiel reading. It was God’s intention to show mercy and kindness to Israel, but the people collectively chose to take God’s gifts and use them for their own temporary convenience and pleasure –– the very way our culture is choosing to use God’s gift of sexuality. The sexual image Ezekiel uses perfectly illustrates both the people of his day and much of our own.

It should not be surprising then, that the Gospel is Jesus giving a teaching on marriage. Marriage is one of God’s gifts. The sexual relationship is meant to be understood within the parameters of God’s character and purpose. The depth and purity of sexual union is meant to be a sacrament of God’s relationship with his people.

As we live in a society that increasingly dismisses the idea of God having any kind of practical reality, it again should not be so surprising that the popular discussion of marriage is based on human opinions of transitory sexual happiness –– one of today’s so-called “human rights”. Like Israel so long ago, our culture has turned God’s gift of sexuality into harlotry. Dismissing God, the conversations that get attention are talking about marriage without even knowing what it is –– at least from the perspective of people who have faith. It is little wonder that the fabric of our society is being ripped apart.

I am not sure what the solution is. First, those who are able to “see” God’s ways simply need to  live them.  We have no respectable voice and witness unless we are living the Truth. Second, we need to realize that those who do not “see” are unable to comprehend our real concerns. They are choosing to live in what Jesus calls “the hardness of your hearts.”  Again, our witness needs to be one of love and distinctiveness, and not a focus on cognitive arguments (which is not to say we shouldn’t be able to explain why we believe what we do). Third, we need to pray that the Spirit of God will, in mercy, move with a conviction of sin and a give a spiritual understanding to our world.  We need the life of God breathed into our society, our nation and our world. The path before us is either one of true marriage or harlotry.

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