Bride of Christ, Danny Hahlbohm (1949–  ), 2014; via <a target="_blank" style="color:white;" href=""></a>

Fr Neil’s homily for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity, 3 October 2021

That which God has joined, let no man put asunder.¹

We see many who seem to react very strongly to those who are seen as being rigid, uptight and legalistic, who prevent people from coming to engage and experience the mercy of God in the face of Christ. A distinction is often highlighted between some traditional aspects of the institutional Church that lack mercy and the welcoming healing arms of the Messiah. These “legalistic” people are cast as the present-day pharisaical version of those that Christ encountered and challenged in the gospels.

The relationship between Christ and the law is manifold. The scriptures tell us he is the embodiment and fulfilment of all that the law and the prophets expressed and foretold. So the desire to want to encounter the perfect image and manifestation of the law and prophets found in the Messiah is a good and holy one. Indeed in Christ alone can we find the salvation and healing that the law and prophets point to and express.

We certainly need to be cautious of falling into a sort of infantile pantomime response which says “boo” at the mention of law and “hurray” at the appearance of the merciful messiah. It is too easy to see the law as a dead letter, that is blunt and insensitive in its application; and too easy to see Christ as some 1960s or 70s free-love hippy who would be singing along to the Beatles tune All You Need is Love. Both extremes are unhelpful.

If we take a moment to look at what Christ has to say about the law, it is illuminating. The law says that an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is a just retaliation for being wronged by an enemy as giving satisfaction.² Christ however, tells us not to take the eye or tooth but instead to love, clothe and pray for those who do us wrong.³

The law says 10% of your income should be given to the Lord’s work in the temple.⁴ Christ, however, says everything you have needs to be put at the Lord’s disposal.⁵ That might mean giving the widow’s mite or selling everything you have and giving it to the poor while you follow him. Might I just add here we do need a new roof!

The law says that if you murder a person then you forfeit your own life.⁶ Does this not motivate many who campaign for the return of the death penalty? Yet Christ says that if you are angry with your brethren you have committed murder in your heart;⁷ and if you call him ‘fool’ you will answer with hell fire.⁸ Is it getting a bit warm?

The law says if you commit adultery you are under judgment and could be stoned.⁹ Christ says that if you look at another lustfully you have committed adultery in your heart and are under judgement;¹⁰ and he goes on to say that if it is your eye causes you to sin pluck it out.¹¹ Is it getting a bit dark?

It is in this context that we see the Pharisees testing Christ. The law, they say, allows a man to divorce his wife by giving a writ of divorce.¹² However Christ’s response is to appeal to the beginning of Creation. He reveals that divorce was an allowance given by Moses for their hardness of heart.¹³ A deeper truth was instituted at the conception of Creation: a spiritual and physical union between man and woman in which each compliments and completes the other.

No wonder Adam cries out, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”¹⁴

Indeed from this moment on, in return, every man would be taken out of the woman.

This union was ordained by God and therefore a sacrament that man could not undo, as the man and woman became one flesh — the foundation of the family unit in which new life could be conceived and nurtured. The Church of course does allow annulments where that union, the becoming of one flesh, hasn’t been properly formed.

This sacrament of marriage provides one of the main models for, and language of, understanding the relationship between God and humanity in the covenantal promise, between Christ and his bride the Church, and the final consummation between heaven and earth in the renewed creation.

This revelation, the direct teaching of Christ, lends even more powerful weight and meaning to the phrase, “that which God has joined, let no man put asunder.”¹

However, it isn’t a case of whose teachings is the more demanding, the law or Christ’s, as there is no real dichotomy between the two but an extension and fulfilment of of the law in Christ. The law cannot be used as stick to punish and shame people; but neither can we use God’s merciful love as a free pass to justify any immoral behaviour. To do so reveals an immature childish approach to a profound mystery. Our Lord seeks to unveil that the law and his teachings are not arbitrary requirements of a disapproving demanding God. They are given to provide boundaries that not only keep the people of God safe but also create an environment in which our lives might be reconciled and healed, to grow and flourish in the life of God.

The sacraments, then, are a means for enabling the profound union between us and Christ which allows us to be animated, made alive in him and be a source of life to others as this divine human union overflows with his creative life for the benefit of all. In the light of this mystery we must indeed agree that, “that which God has joined, let no man put asunder.”

¹ Mark 10:9
² eg Leviticus 24:19–20
³ Matthew 5:39–40
⁴ eg Leviticus 27:32
⁵ Cf Matthew 13:46; Matthew 19:21
⁶ eg Leviticus 24:17
⁷ ⁸ Matthew 5:22
⁹ eg Leviticus 20:10
¹⁰ Matthew 5:28
¹¹ Matthew 5:29
¹² Deuteronomy 24:3
¹³ Mark 10:5
¹⁴ Genesis 2:23