The Jewish Bride, Rembrandt c.1667, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
[Jesus said] “…Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” Matthew 10:9.
Words highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.
Here we have a linkage between one of Jesus’ most famous teachings, and one of Rembrandt’s most famous paintings, both with the same perfect theme, pure love. Jesus is giving us what could be called a counsel of perfection, a statement of affairs which reflect the best possible situation, and Rembrandt’s image of the same condition. Who could possibly object to such a state of affairs? Love is the reflection of God; it is the closest we can ally ourselves with God, and, as the saying goes, and later the song, to love another person is to see the face of God (Victor Hugo, Les Miserables). In other words, pure love between two people is tantamount to the presence of God in our lives. Nothing closer is possible in this life. That, I believe, is what Jesus meant. It is so sacred that it cannot and should not be broken. It is human perfection. To shatter it is to reject the divine. Look at his words: “What God has joined together…..” True love comes from the hand of God; it is something that is greater than any of us. It is to be welcomed, nourished, allowed to grow and consume both lovers so that they become one. I believe it to be the closest reflection we have in this life to the Holy Trinity, the perfect image of love that we have. Hence it is a blessed state of affairs, and remember that the root meaning of blessed is happiness. People truly in love are genuinely happy.
Then there is the reality of broken marriage, divorce, annulment, separation, all words implying the opposite of true love, which brings together and unites. Jesus was fully aware of such a reality. Indeed, his disciples pointed it out to him! But he defended his position strongly, without any room for doubt: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her…” and vice versa. For Jesus, to divorce was to deny the reality of God’s love. It was unthinkable. So what must one do?
I contend that becoming permanently joined to another must be done carefully, with patience and understanding. As love is a reflection of God, it must be like God. My thesis is that God’s qualities (which should be present in human love) are Power, Loyalty, Forgiveness, Ability to Listen, Love of Freedom, Mercy, and Being open to Relationship. We all have power, from childhood onwards. Can’t children make their mothers happy or sad or angry? Can’t any of us say something uplifting to another, or a crushing put down? We all have power; it is how we use it that counts. True humanity requires loyalty, the ability to stand by another through thick and thin, to convince another that we can be counted on. We can all fail from time to time, and forgiveness is very welcome, so we should be able to forgive also. Listening carefully to others, and especially to the other, is essential to get an idea of what the other is concerned about, what is important in another’s life. We enjoy our freedom to be able to do and say what is necessary and helpful. So we must allow others that same freedom, so that they can grow and blossom in their own way, to allow the other to become their full self. Mercy is a demanding quality. It is to extend compassion on someone who does not deserve it. It could be a kind of preparation for eventual forgiveness; it is a realization, in a way, that there but for the grace of God, go I. And finally, we should all be open to allowing others into our world, above all that special other. God did this when the divine name, YHWH, was revealed to Moses for the first time, and even more so, when Jesus gave himself to us in the Eucharist. Relationship is the beginning of a special alliance or bond with someone else, the opening of a doorway, if you like, where you are allowing another to share yourself and the other with you.
Put all these qualities together, in the widest, fullest sense, and there is the groundwork, the possibility, of true love. They were all revealed by God through the centuries of the Old Testament, and then Jesus demonstrated them fully in his ministry, a guiding light for us all to follow. As you might imagine, demonstrating these characteristics takes time (loyalty can only be built up slowly, for example) so love gradually reveals itself in this way. A courtship of a few weeks can hardly be expected to satisfy fully the presence of every quality. Only patience and time can do that. After all, isn’t it worth it to try and establish a foundation which will last forever?
The Farewell Discourse, Duccio, the Maestà in the Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady, Siena, Italy.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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