Isaac and Rebecca, known as ‘The Jewish Bride’, Rembrandt, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.


[Jesus said] God made them male and female.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother
and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.   Mark 10:6-8.

Jesus taught us what we might call “counsels of perfection”. We must always forgive (“seventy times seven times….”), we must always be merciful (Jesus calling Matthew the tax collector to be his follower, when Matthew was an excommunicate); we must be completely trustworthy (“I will be with you to the end of time”); we must always listen (“Today you will be with me in Paradise”); we must be open to relationship (“take and eat, this is my body…”); we must always use our gifts powerfully (“rise, take up your mat and walk”) and we must love true freedom (“You deaf and mute spirit,” Jesus said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”). And today we have a counsel of perfection which addresses marriage. It is permanent and must remain so. Jesus’ words clearly mean that; there is no wriggle room there. And, of course, this had led to an enormous amount of wriggling, ranging from divorce by proclamation to “annulment”, meaning there was no true marriage there in the first place. Why? Because we poor humans constantly fall from such counsels of perfection, becoming less human as a result. Jesus is the perfect example of humanity, fulfilling all the counsels listed above, though of course he did not marry; but he was “married”, as it were, to his message, his mission, for which he was prepared to be tortured and killed. So Jesus intended, it seems, to give us a model by which we could guide our own lives, trying our best to achieve the perfection Jesus calls us to. We fail sometimes because of “hardness of heart”, as Jesus calls it today. I presume what he means is that for our own purposes we dethrone God and put ourselves in God’s place, and we decide what is right and wrong, forgetting Jesus’ counsels of perfection. Sometimes, I suppose, these counsels seem to be superhuman. 

Taken all together, the model of human perfection above clearly leads us to happiness, not frustration and self-loathing. If we are always working at those qualities listed, we will know it in our heart of hearts, and if we fail, and we believe completely in God’s forgiveness, then we can even forgive ourselves, and try harder. I am not married, so I am unworthy to talk about its high and low points; but everyone has friendships, and they go through the same peaks and troughs. And one should always be loath to abandon a friendship/marriage without trying to save it first, even if that means eating crow, a most unpleasant dish indeed. But we humans are so many times less than human, and fail. Peter, Jesus’ chosen leader, failed. Three times he failed. The carrier of the keys of heaven stated clearly three times he had no idea who Jesus was. And he wept bitterly over that. But what was the reaction of the man of counsels of perfection? Forgiveness. That restored Peter to the dignity of humanity, lifting him up from bitter remorse, self-hatred and all those other sub-human pitfalls into which we fall through weakness and lack of courage. Jesus exercises his strength of humanity by forgiving us who fall from it. If he can do that, so can we, because he was as human as each of us. He never calls us to something beyond our powers; it’s important to remember that. We are Jesus’ equals in the sense that we are all utterly human. And, beyond that, as Jesus was also Son of God, he helps us through such divine strength to struggle to remain truly human through all trials. If he could forgive those who crucified him, then we can forgive also. Always. 

One thought occurs to me, though it might not be politically correct. Jesus was asked about marriage between a man and a woman. What would his reply have been if it had been a question of union between two men or two women? He wasn’t asked that (or at least, if he was, it was not written down or it was cut out…). Would his reply have been the same as today’s gospel? Now that’s a question.


{“Do You Love Me?”) Jesus’ Charge to Peter, Raphael, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK.


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