The Contingency of Marriage
If someone who had never been to church were to ask you what is so unique about the God that Christians believe in, how would you respond to them? Another way to put this question might be: what is the central claim Christians, for centuries have made about who God is and why this matters?
It is precisely these two questions that our readings shed light on today. Our Gospel starts with Jesus talking to Saducees whom Luke tells us, “say that there is no resurrection.” This is our first clue.
Our second comes all the way at the end of the Gospel reading. The Saducees have just tried to indirectly challenge Jesus about the proclamation they’ve been hearing of his and his follower’s belief in a resurrection. They ask whose wife a woman would ultimately be in heaven after her own death, when in life, she had sequentially married seven brothers, each of whom had died. Jesus cuts off their faulty logic: you are judging the Kingdom of God by the measures of this world. Stop doing that. “Those who are resurrected from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.”
Notice that Jesus doesn’t try to make sense of civil laws to determine who is married to whom. He doesn’t try to figure out who loved whom more. He doesn’t try to look at who had the most possessions or who acted most worthily, or even refer to some sort of human belonging or ownership or debt or dowry.
He begins with the end: This is the end: when all things are complete in God there is no marriage. That is to say that when all things are brought to perfection, resurrected from the dead, there is no marriage. Okay, cue laughter now.
So now we can respond, in part, anyway, to this new believer who asks us what is so unique about this God whom Christians claim to believe: this God, in Jesus Christ, claims to resurrect the dead. And something about this resurrection fundamentally impacts not just what the things of this world mean, what their purpose is, but the very existence of these things at all.
Just before Jesus says that no one will marry or be married in the resurrection, he says, “those who belong to this age are married and given in marriage,” he only then continues on to say that those who are ‘children of God, of the resurrection, neither marry nor are given in marriage.’ Who belongs to this age? Every single one of us do. We cannot escape that reality. So then Jesus isn’t suggesting here that marriage isn’t important, vital even, or that it isn’t holy.
What Jesus is getting at is that the relationship of marriage and what it provides to God and to the world, has a purpose only on Earth. We could say that marriage is a contingent good. This means that it takes its good and value from something other than itself. And what Jesus is driving at here is that the good, value and worth of marriage is first, before any good it provides to us as individuals in marriages, is derived from, or comes solely from the end, that is, when everything is in perfect relationship to God. So marriage is important not simply because it makes people happy, or because it fulfils a personal or economic need, but because it is supposed to point to the perfection of God’s love for us, and our response to God of his perfect love for us. It is in Jesus sacrificially giving himself to his bride, the Church, us, so that in him, with him, we might bear, through baptismal adoption, new followers of this God of ours who will become children of his resurrection.
Marriage between two people gives glimpses of God’s life with us: bearing, sacrificing, struggling, nurturing, disciplining, comforting, challenging, changing, breaking open our hard hearts so we might bear more love in this world, a light for others to be drawn into God’s own family. So we see all of these acts in the contingent moments of marriage: nurturing one another in sickness and health, in joy and pain, in fear and courage, all to create the space to grow to maturity in God, while creating new life through children, friends, and family.
In other words, marriage isn’t just about you. It isn’t just about the individual or couple who are married. Marriage is what we call a sign (like water, wine and bread are a sign of Jesus really present with us, or like water at baptism is a sign of the drowning of sin, the overcoming of death, and the rebirth in Christ, to new life).
Marriage is a sign that in its very being - i.e. two people living out their lives till death do them part - helps other people to see in that faith and love and sacrifice for one another, the very life of Jesus lived to his father and us, so that we might be reborn as children of God, children of the resurrection.
And we see this throughout all of Scripture, which in fact uses marriage as an analogy for God’s relationship to human beings: the bride is the church, Jesus, is the bridegroom who, through his bodily sacrifice, and the church’s bodily sacrifice, open the way that new children of God might be adopted into God’s family and be made children of the resurrection i.e. new Christians.
What is so unique about this God in whom we believe is that he came into a world of purely contingent realities - marriage, children, time, money, possessions, food, water, jobs, health, pain, suffering, gains and losses - and changed not just what they mean, but what they actually are. He changed reality where once all of our things, all of our ways, all of our lives ended in our choice to embrace final death - the very first sin that has cascaded out to affect all things - to one in which we are made alive in and through Jesus Christ.
In his own death and resurrection, Jesus transformed all of our contingent and often quite broken ways - from marriage and childbirth, to friendship, and money making - so that they could be knitted together in order to point to the end, the only true reality that exists: the perfection of all things and all people in their creator; our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In this God alone is life, for he alone has, in his own self-giving love, overcome all of our brokenness. Yet he still uses even these things - our only clothing knitted by God to endure this life - to show us himself and draw us to him. This is the uniqueness of our God, revealed to us in our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen