by Luke Eggleston
Sun Staff Writer
From Adam and Eve to David and Bathsheba, from Zechariah and Elizabeth to Mary and Joseph, Catholics find biblical relationships that they can exalt and live by. Many of these relationships are challenged by adversity — whether brought on from outside the relationship or within — but Christians can use those same problems as inspiration.
“Sometimes couples may find it hard to live out the vows of marriage each and every minute of every day,” said Father Phillip Hearn, pastor at St. Peter’s Church in Rome. “Biblical couples illustrate that couples can go through hardship and still do that.”
While Adam and Eve make for a poor practical example, their story shows us how integral the archetype of man and woman is to the history of Christianity and to most Western religions. Christianity, Judaism and Islam each trace their roots to Adam and Eve and humanity’s fall into original sin.
In that instance, Eve’s temptation in the garden and her subsequent temptation of Adam resulted in their expulsion from Paradise.
Marriage is a crucial element in the Book of Ruth. Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, both widows, return to Naomi’s homeland of Bethlehem, despite Naomi’s insistence that Ruth find a new husband in her own homeland, Moab. Loyally caring for her mother-in-law, Ruth attracts the attention of the wealthy Boaz, in whose fields she has been gleaning food. Boaz marries Ruth and both women’s worries are over, family loyalty has been rewarded by God.
The most revered couple in the Bible is Mary and Joseph. Father Hearn noted that perhaps that couple is too lofty for people to use as an example for their own marriage.
“They are hard to use as an illustration because they are too perfect,” Father Hearn said. Nevertheless, he noted, they can be used as an example of something couples can strive for.
Father Richard Prior of Holy Family Church in Fairmount noted that Joseph and Mary are often seen as separate figures, and individually their virtues can be used as examples by married couples.
“Joseph is a man of great courage and great faith and willingness to follow God’s will,” Father Prior said. “And certainly Mary on her part showed great courage.”
Father Prior looks to the Book of Tobit for what he considers an exemplary couple. He points out that Tobiah and Sarah are examples Christians can hold up.
“It’s just a great example of a couple’s deep love and their willingness to commit to God,” Father Prior said.
In that book, Sarah has married seven times. On each occasion, her husband has been killed before the marriage can be consummated. Eventually, Sarah is overwhelmed with grief and prays for death. Meanwhile, bird droppings have blinded Tobit. God sends the angel Raphael disguised as a human to heal Tobit and release Sarah from her tormenter. Tobit sends his son, Tobiah, to Media to collect money for him and Raphael, posing as a kinsman, Azariah, offers to accompany him. Upon reaching Media, Raphael tells Tobiah about the beautiful Sarah and gives him instructions on how to fend off the demon on their wedding night. Tobiah does as he is told and he marries Sarah. Tobit, Tobiah and Sarah all live in a way pleasing to God and are all ultimately blessed for their faithfulness.
The Book of Tobit contains a passage in praise of marriage, making it ideal for use in Catholic weddings.
Father Prior said the most applicable passages are Tobit 7:6-14 and Tobit 8:4-8.
After Tobiah drives out the demon he and Sarah are free. Then he offers a prayer, which includes the lines:
“Blessed are you O God of our fathers; praised be your name forever and ever. Let the heavens and all your creation praise you forever. You made Adam and you gave his wife Eve to be his help and support; and from these two the human race descended. You said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; let us make him a partner like…himself,’ Now, Lord, you know that I take this wife of mine not because of lust, but for a noble purpose. Call down your mercy on me and on her, and allow us to live together to a happy old age.”
In the Book of Tobit, Sarah is childless, like her namesake, Sarah, the wife of Abraham. The story of the births of Isaac and Ishmael is well known.
God had promised Abram (later, God would change his name to Abraham) that his seed would inherit the land of Canaan. God confirmed that promise on several occasions; however, both Abram and Sarai became impatient as they became older and older. Finally, Sarai gave her handmaid Hagar to Abram to bear an heir. Because of Sarai’s jealousy and pride, Hagar and and her son, Ishmael (the ancestor of the Arab people), were driven away. Finally, the covenant is fulfilled and Isaac is conceived. Upon Isaac’s circumcision, Abram is given the name Abraham, while Sarai is given the new name Sarah.
The story of Abraham and Sarah is pivotal in the history of world religions as both Jews and Muslims trace their origins to it. It is also an important story for Christians since the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel begins with the mention of Abraham and Isaac.
The story of children fulfilling God’s promise is a common theme among biblical unions. Similar to Isaac’s significance to Abraham and Sarah, John the Baptist was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Zechariah and Elizabeth.
Zechariah and Elizabeth were contemporaries of Mary and Joseph. Zechariah was a priest and Elizabeth was of the lineage of Aaron, according to the Gospel of Luke.
Luke 1:6 states, “They were righteous before God and living blamelessly.” Nevertheless, they were childless. The angel Gabriel, however, visited Zechariah and told him to expect a child who would be “great in the sight of the Lord.” Later, Mary visited her cousin and Elizabeth felt the baby leaping in her womb.
Because Zechariah refused to believe the angel’s message, he was rendered mute. He was not able to speak until, at his son’s circumcision, he agreed with his wife Elizabeth and wrote on a slate, “John is his name.” Zechariah then “spoke blessing God” for the gift of a son, always a sign of God’s favor.
In several instances in the Bible, couples, such as Mary and Joseph, offer Christians powerful examples of people striving bravely to trust God and to do God’s will. In others, one can see couples presented with challenges that they must overcome. In each case, God is at the center of the relationship. In each case, it is simply a matter of allowing God to guide events.