Inspired to ask

When we think of the teachings of Jesus we might be inspired and grateful that Our Savior, who knows us so well, thinks so highly of us. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus repeatedly refers to what was taught before giving what He came to teach and to make possible. For example, His teaching that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us is a teaching that is a beautiful one. It also is a very challenging one. Jesus says that it isn't such a big thing for us to love those who love us. Yet, when we think about it, we might notice that even loving those who love us can be beyond our usual practice. Jesus came to teach us a new way and to give us what we need to live according to it. His teachings are more than ideals, they identify the way we should and can live. Are they inspiring or intimidating?

This weekend we find Jesus responding to the Pharisees who have approached Him with a question designed to "test Him." The gracious Jesus patiently answers their question. As a pastor, I wonder if I would be as patient if I knew I was being asked a question to test me. Of course, Jesus is love incarnate so He has patience with them because He loves them. He takes the opportunity to teach. His disciples, hearing this exchange, listen and learn. Then, later, they ask Him follow-up questions. The discussion on that day was about marriage, divorce and remarriage. It is interesting to note that such questions abound even now. Jesus makes the point that Moses permitted divorce, permitted husbands to dismiss their wives, because people had hard hearts. Then, in that context of what once was permitted, Jesus said these familiar words: "But from the beginning of creation, 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. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate."

The passage from the Gospel of St. Mark does not indicate what response the Pharisees gave to Jesus' answer. The disciples clearly wanted clarification. Why? Because Jesus was teaching a new standard, a new attainable and beautiful ideal for marriage between a man and a woman. Imagine the shock waves such news would send through the society Jesus was trying to reach. They might say: "He believes divorced people who remarry are adulterers." or "Does He really expect that people can live up to such standards?" The scene is very familiar, actually. In our own day it is common for people to call for the church to adjust, update, modernize, change its teachings. Such thinking is one reason that Pope Francis is popular to many people. It is a recurring theme, generation after generation - will this be the moment when the church finally teaches according to what people really want to be taught? So goes the thinking and questioning. Yet, the pope and the church and Jesus remain steadfast. And God's grace remains real.

Most parish priests work with engaged couples. Most would agree that the best engaged couples are "engaged" engaged couples. The grammar check doesn't want to recognize the word engaged right after the word engaged. In a way, popular culture doesn't seem to want to recognize it either. But an engaged couple that is truly engaged on the point of what marriage means will find that the teachings of Jesus are, in fact, inspiring. It may be that they are at first intimidating. But young and not-so-young couples find that it is better to strive to live out the call to holiness that marriage is than it is to accept the lower standard of morality and life so prevalent all around. Inspired or intimidated? When we approach Jesus today in prayer it would be right to bring to Him the questions we have in our minds and hearts. It would be right to approach Him as His children, for so indeed we are. Pray with imagination. Imagine the heart and reaction of Jesus to children asking real questions. Imagine how much more He can say and teach to His willing inspired child-like sons and daughters who don't want to test Him.

Fr. Zuberbueler is pastor of St. Louis Church in Alexandria.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015

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