How Mark 10:2-12 and Matthew 19:3-9 Inform My Faith: How My Uncles Help Me Live It
On December 16, 2012 my Uncle John died. It is only recently that I have slid comfortably into calling John “uncle.” John was, from before I was born, the beloved “friend” of my father’s oldest brother, my Uncle George. Uncle George passed away in 2000 at the age of 89. They lived in California, so growing up, I knew them only from visits to Pittsburgh – mostly in the fall to enjoy the change of seasons. I have spoken of them often, but not by name. As they have both gone on to Jesus, I think I can now.
All that was ever said of them in the family was that John was my uncle’s friend and my grandmother adored him. Granny made sure Johnny sat beside her at family dinners and during long afternoons gabbing. After Uncle George died, I found out Uncle John was a great ‘go-to’ guy for details of family heritage. When my brother and I visited him a few years back, he had a large stack of family pictures, including years of our family Christmas card pictures he and Uncle George had saved.
I figured out they were gay about the time I was in college.
Only when they were all in their seventies did my aunt share with me that Uncle George had been rejected from service in World War II for being gay. After he was taken twice to a Massachusetts sanatorium for shock treatment – a tragic and common “treatment” for gay people at the time – he moved to California and soon after met John. By all accounts and my own observation, Uncle George and Uncle John lived a long, contented life together for better for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as they both lived.
I honor their courageous fidelity each year when, in my morning devotions, I come to Matthew 19:3-9 and then Mark 10:2-12. These passages tell of Jesus’ encounter with a group of Pharisees who come to trip Him up with a question about the legality of divorce. Jesus is stricter than Moses, adamant in His conclusion, “What therefore God has joined let no one put asunder (Matthew 19:6, Mark 10:9).”
From Sunday school to this day, Jesus has taught me through Matthew and Mark that fidelity is expected in marriage. What Uncle John and Uncle George did was show me how to be faithful. One of my cousins commented to me a few years ago that their long love and commitment was among the best models of marriage in our parents’ generation. It was.
I am certain that Uncle John and Uncle George knew these Gospel passages. John was a faithful Catholic who attended Mass until late in life, in and out on Sunday, as many do. George grew up in the Presbyterian Church; his father, my grandfather, was a trustee for decades of their neighborhood Presbyterian congregation. George preferred watching Robert Schuler on TV, according to John. I never talked with Uncle George about this. I expect he did not feel comfortable in the local Presbyterian church, But they both knew their Bible and clearly tried to live by it.
And they did this without the strong supports of civil law or faith communities, giving us a measure of how deep and rich their love was to sustain them so long and well. It is our terrible loss that they were so tenuously tied to my family, yet unknown to the church. I especially admire their courage and integrity to be faithful in an era when their love was, at best, ignored—the way my family just spoke of them as “friends” —and, at worst, was vilified and threatened. I am very glad there is a better chance now than when I was growing up for couples like George and John to show us the way to do marriage well.
Mark 10:2-12 and Matthew 19:3-9 inform my faith by sealing for me that fidelity in marriage is God’s law. When I need help living by Jesus’ teaching, I look to the long love and commitment of Uncles George and John. Though their journey in this world is now ended, I can always draw strength from their example of faithfulness in marriage and give thanks.
May the peace of Christ be always with you,
Reverend Janet Edwards