Talk 14: Marriage And Celibacy
Welcome to our exciting excursion through Matthew’s Gospel.
Today, I want to preach the simple message, “Wherever you are, serve there.” I tweaked a very popular quote spoken by many gurus: “Wherever you are, be there.”
I love this original quote because it’s about embracing the present moment. If you’re washing dishes, wash dishes. If you’re cooking, cook. If you’re cleaning, clean. Be aware. Be mindful. Be here and now.
I believe most of our pain come from being trapped in two prisons: The prison of the past and the prison of the future, also called the prison of regret or the prison of fear. We’re either meditating on our past failures or our future worries. But if you want to have more peace in your life, you must walk out from these two prisons and enter your present moment.
But today, I want to take you one step further…
Serve In Your Struggle
Wherever you are, don’t just be there—serve there.
When God created you, He designed you to serve. And you will never experience deep fulfillment unless you follow your original design. Your joy will remain shallow unless you live a selfless life.
And how should you serve?
I believe God wants you to serve in your present state.
Are you married? Serve there.
Are you in a difficult marriage? You love each other but every day is a struggle. Serve there anyway.
Are you separated? Serve there. Even with the pain.
Are you separated from your spouse and you’re living with a new partner, and you’ve got three kids already, one with your ex, and two with your present partner, but you cannot yet get married in church because your ex-wife does not want to help you get an annulment? What should you do? Serve there. Even in the craziness.
Are you a widow or widower? Serve there.
Are you a consecrated celibate? Serve there.
Are you single waiting for the right person? Serve there.
Are you single for a long time now and tired of waiting? Serve there.
Are you single and have accepted the possibility that you might be single for life? Serve there. Even during times when you’re lonely. (News flash: Married people get lonely too. And the loneliest people I’ve met are married people who married the wrong person.)
Because life doesn’t go as planned. And life is messy. But in the middle of that mess, serve there. Serve in the struggle. Serve in the chaos, the confusion, the conflict, the complication.
Warning: This is real talk. You will taste the rawness in your mouth.
Capture How Jesus Thinks
Let’s read our main Bible reading for today: Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for just any reason?” (Matthew 19:3 NLT) At that time in ancient Israel, there was a raging debate about divorce, and the Pharisees wanted to snag Jesus into the hot controversary.
This was how Jesus answered: “Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’ ” 5 And he said, “‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ 6 Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.”
Here’s a tip: Don’t just observe His thoughts, observe His thought process. How does Jesus think?
When someone presents Him a muddy issue, He goes back to Genesis, the first book of the Bible. Because in Genesis, we see God’s original purpose. Based on my experience, when I’m in messy confusing situation, purpose clarifies the mess.
And what is God’s original purpose? God created man and woman as two parts of His image. Man and woman together are the Imago Dei.
Marriage was supposed to reflect God’s unity to the world. Remember that God is a community. He is Father, Son, and Spirit. And so like God, marriage is supposed to be another community of love.
From marriage’s original purpose, divorce was not an option.
I remember this lesson early in my marriage…
“Never Mention It”
The biggest fight I ever had with my wife? It started very small. We were arguing about some little thing she bought for the house.
As a backgrounder, I was trained by my mother who lived during World War II. And in her mind, the war never ended, and she was the ultimate kuripot. And I became one too.
My wife was not overspending, but according to my mother’s World War II standards, she was. And in frustration, she blurted out the truth to me, and at that time, I wasn’t ready to handle it. She said, “You’re generous to God and others. But you’re not generous to yourself or your wife.”
Ouch. What complicated it was we started fighting while getting dressed for a prayer meeting where I was preaching. And in the car going there, we continued arguing. By the time we reached the parking lot, her eyes were puffy from crying. And she said, “I can’t go down the car.”
I called up my friend Pio Espanol and told him, “Marowe and I are fighting. Can you take over my talk?” Pio said, “Yes, of course…”
I drove home in total silence with Marowe crying beside me.
But when we arrived home, we continued arguing. And in total exasperation, I asked her, “So what do you want to happen? Do you want to…” I didn’t say the word “end this” but that was what I meant. And in anger, she also said, “Is that what you want?”
That was when I heard God’s voice in my heart. “Son, don’t say that. You’re disrespecting your wife. And you’re disrespecting Me. I’m part of this Covenant of Marriage.” BOOM! Like God hit me on the head. And I knew He also spoke to her. I reached out for her hand and said, “I’m so sorry…” We hugged each other and prayed.
That was our last big fight—22 years ago. Yes, we still have a lot of disagreements. But we’ve vowed never to escalate them. And we try to settle them as soon as possible.
Let’s continue with our bible story…
Hillel’s Popular Fans Club
The Pharisees, hearing that Jesus says marriage should never be broken, felt that Jesus was now trapped in their net. So they launch their attack and asked Him, “Then why did Moses say in the law that a man could give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away?” (v.7)
They were quoting from Deuteronomy. Let’s read it: “Suppose a man marries a woman but she does not please him. Having discovered something wrong with her, he writes a document of divorce, hands it to her, and sends her away from his house… (Deuteronomy 24:1 NLT)
If Moses wrote this, then it seems God approves of divorce. And did you notice how horribly open-ended it was? It said a man can divorce his wife if she didn’t “please him”. Kawabanga. What does that mean?
In fact, at the time of Jesus, there were two schools of thought in this burning debate, and one of them, Rabbi Hillel, taught that, based on this passage, God allowed a man to divorce his wife for any reason whatsoever.
She’s too talkative? Divorce her. She snores? Divorce her. She burnt your morning toast? Divorce her. She’s no longer pretty and you found someone else more beautiful? Divorce her.
The other school of thought was led by Rabbi Shammai, and he taught that a man cannot divorce his wife unless you catch her in adultery.
As you can expect, it was Rabbi Hillel who had a huge fans club.
This was how Jesus answered their question: Jesus replied, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended. 9 And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery—unless his wife has been unfaithful.” (v.8-9, emphasis mine)
I repeat: If you’re going through a messy situation, always remind yourself of purpose. That’s what Jesus did. While the Pharisees were obsessed with laws, Jesus was focused on purpose.
We saw this in the Beatitudes. He quotes the law but brings out the intent, the purpose, and the “first principle” behind the law.
Let me paraphrase what Jesus said in the Beatitudes: “You’ve heard the law ‘Don’t murder.’ But now I tell you, call someone G-A-G-O, and you’re entering the realm of murder… And you’ve heard, ‘Don’t commit adultery’. But now I tell you, if you fantasize having a relationship with that girl that’s not your wife, you’re also committing adultery in the heart.”
Why was Jesus focused on the purpose behind the laws? First principles expose God’s heart.
Why Have Laws Then?
Some Pharisees saw Deuteronomy as God’s command to allow divorce. But Jesus saw this verse not as a command but as a concession; It’s a pastoral solution to a messy situation. It’s not God’s ideal.
This tension, between Genesis and Deuteronomy, between the ideal and the practical, continues to this day. I thank God for this tension.
I have a modern example on this…
Can People In “Irregular Marriages” Receive Communion?
One day, a Feaster asked me, “My marriage broke down a long time ago. But for 7 years now, I’ve been living with another woman and I have 2 kids with her. We both love God. We serve at the Feast together. I’m still working on my church annulment, so we can’t get married in church yet. Brother Bo, can we receive holy communion?”
For a long time, the doctrinal answer has been a flat-out “NO”.
But recently, Pope Francis has been reaching out to these wounded individuals. In his pastoral letter, Amoris Laetitia, he opened the possibility that some of these couples in irregular marriages may actually be living in grace and may be called to go back to the sacraments[i]. But instead of giving a blanket answer, very wisely, he sees each case as unique and thus leaves it to the discernment of the local bishop and his priests. To the shepherds that actually know these couples.
I love this. Because God doesn’t just see groups, He sees individuals, unique and different and beautiful.
Friend, are you in one of those messy, sticky situations?
God sees you. He sees your mess but He doesn’t define you by that mess. Instead, He sees you as His Beloved with beautiful gifts and divine purpose. Today, He invites you, “Wherever you are, serve there.”
We need to close our bible reading…
The Other Call: Celibacy
The conversation turns into an unexpected topic: Jesus’ disciples then said to him, “If this is the case, it is better not to marry!” 11 “Not everyone can accept this statement,” Jesus said. “Only those whom God helps. 12 Some are born as eunuchs, some have been made eunuchs by others, and some choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” (v.10-12)
God calls us to different states of life.
Some are called to marriage. Some are called to celibacy.
Both are beautiful callings. We live in a world that’s obsessed with romance and relationships. But in God’s Kingdom, single life is a valid call.
And did you notice? We’re either called to “one” or “zero”. If you’re called to marriage, it’s one. If you’re called to celibacy, its zero relationships.
In reality, both are impossible. You need grace from the Cross. Calvary happened so that He can give you the grace to do the impossible.
As we worship God, open your heart to this grace from calvary.
Some quotes from Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia: ”At times we have also proposed a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families.”
To these irregularly married couples, the Pope shared these compassionate words: “It can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of moral sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.”