Two Keys to Understanding Jesus’ Teaching on Marriage

Two Keys to Understanding Jesus’ Teaching on Marriage October 5, 2015

Photo credit: Bill Selak / Foter / CC BY-ND
Photo credit: Bill Selak / Foter / CC BY-ND

By Father Anthony Gerber

In the Gospel we see Jesus teaching the Pharisees and his disciples about marriage.

The Pharisees tended to be quite liberal with divorce, allowing a man to do so for pretty much any reason. That might surprise you because typically we think of Pharisees as being very strict, often at the expense of mercy.

Indeed, at the time of Jesus, there was a divide among the Pharisees over this issue. Some held to the permissive view, others held to a stricter interpretation. Hence “they were testing Him”—to see what side of the aisle he would fall on.

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If we are going to understand Jesus’ teaching on marriage, we must have two keys in our possession.

The first key is Jesus’ emphasis on community as manifested by the children. Jesus abruptly ends His lesson on marriage by telling His disciples to let the children come to Him. Since children and marriage are connected, Jesus is highlighting that, in the debate on marriage and divorce, the Pharisees have overlooked a whole demographic of people that are integral to the community: namely, the children. That the disciples are actually physically preventing the children to approach Jesus only highlights the reality that divorce and adultery hurts children and also the community. We’ve seen that in countless psychological and sociological studies.

So, when Jesus says, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them,” He not only effectively puts the debate to an end, but gives the most convincing reason to avoid divorce and adultery.

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The second key which helps us to understand is Jesus’ call for us to consider The Beginning—that is, to consider Adam and Eve and the period before The Fall. It is there that we see God commenting upon Man’s situation and Man, in turn, commenting upon the creation of Woman.

About Man, God says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Man is made for an Other; he is made for communion. This makes sense since we are made in the image and likeness of God—God who is not alone, but who is Three Persons, and therefore the First Family. Man is made for this; he is made for family. And not for a man cave.

About Woman, Man says, “at last, this one is bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh.” In the Beginning, Man sees Woman as his equal in dignity—literally made of the same stuff from which he is made. It is only after The Fall that there enters the domination and distrust between the sexes. Yes, while Eve is called Adam’s “helper,” it is not a derogatory title, but the same title that is used to describe God the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.

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What can we gather from this very brief reflection on The Beginning? Simply, that marriage and family must be considered and pursued in light of some of these basic truths: namely, that we are not made to be islands, but families; and that men and women are equals in dignity. As the man and woman discover these realities, they arrive at an understanding of themselves, of the world, and of God that is greater than the sum of their parts.

Therefore, when Jesus invites us to consider The Beginning in the context of the debate on marriage and divorce, He is inviting us to see the beauty of what marriage is and can be: it is the very civilizing force of society; it builds community by way of the family; it is unifying and uplifting most especially when the man and the woman see their own and their spouse’s incredible dignity and then seek its multiplication. For they can heal each other’s hearts; they can put a human face to divine love; they can image and cooperate in the very re-creation of the world in such a way that goes way beyond what was enjoyed in The Beginning.

It is “for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

It is for this reason that Jesus upholds marriage when it was threatened by the Pharisaical culture of His time.

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And so Jesus says to them,

Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.

This is a call to be trusting like children—like the children that were coming to Jesus that day to receive His blessing.

Yes, we can trust Him for all things are possible through Him. He multiplied the loaves and the fishes—will He not multiply the small love we have? Will He who calmed the storm not bring peace to your home?

You received a Holy Sacrament from Him on your wedding day. Do you think that He who raised the dead would let that fire of divine love remain dormant forever? Let us call upon the graces of the Sacrament you have received! Let us run to Him!

In a particular way, let us pray for the Synod on the Family that is going on in Rome.

Let us pray for the renewal of marriages and families in our community and in our parish.

Let us all come to Jesus as did those children on that day. For it says,

He embraced them and blessed them.


agerberFather Anthony Gerber is a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, serving at St. Joseph’s in Cottleville.

He has been ordained since 2011.

He blogs at Uberrima Fides.

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