In His parables, our Lord often used common and familiar events and situations to teach eternal truths. Today, in the Gospel, we heard how He used the occasion of a wedding to teach about the Kingdom of God. This wedding in the parable was larger than life in that it was the marriage of the King’s son. In order to properly celebrate the wedding the King made a great feast to share the joy of that event with his friends. A wedding is indeed a joyous event – it marks a great beginning for two people who leave behind their former separate lives and embark on a single life together. The wedding marks the beginning of the marriage – and a marriage is a life long journey of two people working out their salvation together. Almost every marriage begins with joy – but the question then is how to keep the joy of the wedding throughout the whole of the marriage.
In today’s parable, there were three friends of the King who refused to come to the wedding and their excuses are used by our Lord as a means of teaching us some of the things that stand in the way of our own salvation. However, these same images can also show us three great dangers that can threaten any marriage and rob it of its joy and happiness. Of these friends, one went to his farm, another to his merchandise and a third slew the King’s messenger. In the Gospel of Luke, we learn in greater detail what these excuses were for not coming. Luke writes that one went to inspect his land that he had just purchased, another to try his new yoke of oxen and the third had just married a wife. These three things: land (a farm), oxen (merchandise) and a wife, represent our possessions, works and passions and it is these three things that can threaten a marriage.
First there are possessions. In a marriage two people mystically become one and become an icon of the Church which is one but made up of many persons or alternatively an icon of the Holy Trinity, One God in three Persons. We bring all that we are into a marriage and offer it to our spouse. But in our modern times, it seems that even in a marriage there are those who wish to have their own possessions – keeping back a part of themselves from their spouse. Prenuptial agreements to preserve rights to property brought into a marriage, separate bank accounts, dividing up assets into “yours, mine and ours”, etc. all of these serve to create division in a marriage because each person only gives a part of themselves. If a marriage is to properly develop and allow the joy of the wedding to grow and multiply, then both of the spouses must give all of themselves, holding nothing back – not themselves nor their possessions. The Apostle Paul points out that in a marriage, not even your body belongs to you anymore, but belongs to your spouse. If even your body is no longer your own, how can you consider your possessions as your own. Only by offering all of oneself to one’s spouse can a marriage be fully fruitful bringing forth joy.
Secondly there are our works – or perhaps it is clearer to say our activities, our labors, our recreations: all the things that we do. In a marriage, the old priorities can no longer apply. My job, my hobbies, my recreation, my leisure, even my “me-time” no longer takes priority, but takes second place to my spouse (and eventually to the children that are born of the marriage). What once I did just on my own to please myself or to pursue my own goals; I now share with another. All that I do, I no longer do alone, but I do with my spouse. I cannot neglect my family for my job or my career or to attain my own goals. Rather the family must take priority over my own activities. The growth, development, maintenance, nurturing and care of this new entity – these two who have become one – is now the primary duty before both persons in the marriage. The greatest “activity” of the marriage is to work out your salvation together.
The third great enemy of a successful and joyous marriage is the passions. When we speak of the passions here we are speaking of my wants, my desires, my “needs”, my pleasure, and so on. These passions play on the very natural (at least natural to our fallen nature) tendency to seek to satisfy one’s self first and foremost. In marriage, however, the self has been sacrificed so that the two might become one, therefore, to continue to pander to the self, to your own wants and desires, sabotages this sacrifice and impairs the development of the marriage and compromises the joy that comes from that union. Marriage is not about self-satisfaction – in fact self-satisfaction has no place in a marriage – rather it is about self-sacrifice. In marriage, one does not destroy the other or absorb the other, but both are sacrificed that something new might be brought into existence. (The children born of a marriage are themselves an icon of this miracle, that something new – a new life of two who have been joined into one – has been created.)
These three enemies: my possessions, my actions and my passions, are the common enemies of every Christian marriage. There is, however, an even more basic necessity for a good and joyful marriage. A strong and sturdy foundation is at the root of every other activity in a marriage. Without a good foundation, any marriage will be endangered. In another parable, our Lord compared two lives, the wise man who built upon the foundation of a rock and the foolish man who built upon sand. The things of this world that too often serve as the foundation of a marriage: lust, loneliness, political or business advantage, greed, a desire for security, a tax advantage and so on are as impermanent and shifting as the sand upon which the foolish man built. As soon as it shifts, the marriage is stressed and sometimes even broken. In order for a marriage to be strong and solid, it must have a solid foundation and the only unchanging and solid rock is our Lord Jesus Christ. A marriage that is built upon anything other than Christ does not have a solid foundation. For this reason, civil marriages – those that are performed outside the Church – are not considered adequate and are not permitted for Christians. In order to have a solid and joy filled marriage, it must begin with and be founded upon the rock of our salvation, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Today we also celebrate the memory of Sts. Peter and Febronia, the wonderworkers of Murom who have been set forth by the Church as the patrons of marital life. Their marriage stands as an ideal for all of us. Their marriage was based solidly on the foundation of our Lord Jesus Christ. They each sacrificed everything that they had in this life – wealth, position, comforts and worldly pleasure – in order to preserve their marriage and to work out their salvation together. In the modern world, marriage as a social institution is straying further and further from the sacrament of marriage offered to us by the Church. It is no longer seen as a divine instrument of salvation but has been debased to become simply a contract legitimizing cohabitation. Today we ask for the prayers of Sts Peter and Febronia not only for the welfare of those engaged in the sacrament of Christian marriage, but also for the preservation of the sacrament marriage in our society and life.
Saints Peter and Febronia, pray to God for us.