by Rev. E.B. Holschuh
Aunt Thede’s Good Book & The Marriage Covenant
I remember that my grandmother never missed an episode of the old western tv series “Gunsmoke.” As an adult, I, too, became a fan of the show—in fact, Marshall Matt Dillon is one my heroes, along with Captain Kirk and “The Rifleman” Lucas McCain, guys with morals and courage who never left a call to do what’s right unanswered (unlike so many in the real world). The other day I caught a “Gunsmoke” episode about a wayward aunt of Festus Haggen (Dillon’s right-hand man) who rides into Dodge City looking for a husband. Aunt Theodore is a self-proclaimed preacher down from the hills who wasted no time putting up a still since, as she chides Festus over his concern about illegal moonshine, “Wine and nectar, it’s in the book, and you know that!”
The “book” Aunt Thede is talking about, of course is the Bible (and I’ll look again, but I’m quite certain there’s no provision for moonshine in it); however, the book she has in her hand is “Little Women,” popular in the post-Civil War setting of the show. It turns out that most of the Haggen clan, including Festus and Theodore, can’t read. Aunt Thede journeyed from Missouri to Kansas with a couple of “reedy” folks (meaning they could read) who gave her a parting gift of the book. Festus took it to the General Store to find out the name and when the storekeeper saw the title, he told Festus that he was surprised to find his aunt with “a good book.” Festus thanked him then left without learning the true title…
Aunt Thede, mountain preacher and purveyor of firewater, believes she’s been given God’s Word and that it must be a sign. Toward the end of the episode, she tells a young couple she’s about to marry that “the Lord gave us a sign and we know ain’t none of us complete all of ourselves…it takes two to make one and that’s the Lord’s way, because he’s been blessing marriages since the first of things.” After inquiring whether they are truly in love, she tells them to “set your hands on the Good Book gentle-like,” then to pray silently that the Lord would know “we mean right and proper in all this and we swear it on His Book.” Aunt Thede is certain that she’s married them.
In the May 3 issue of The Week magazine, I read an opinion piece entitled “What’s the Point of Marriage?”, in which the author, a woman, about a quarter of the way into the article asks a pair of ladies-and-gentlemen-of-the-jury style rhetorical questions: “Isn’t it reasonable to question the value of a legal contract, written in ink, on paper, that involves disastrously punitive terms of dissolution? What kind of an old-fashioned mutant could crave such a primitive trap, particularly when it’s paired with an enormously expensive ceremony that often includes allusions to obedience and lifelong mutual suffering and death, of all things?”
Marriage is a covenant, a sacred bond between a man and a woman instituted by and publicly entered into before God, according to Whom marriage is fundamentally a matter of a man and a woman becoming one flesh (Genesis 2:24). Marriage is a three-way covenant between husband, wife, and God, a permanent contract between a man and a woman established before God as a witness. It’s not necessary to swear on a Bible (or a copy of “Little Women”), but a public ceremony is meant as a proclamation of faith and celebration of commitment. Marriage is meant to be a blessing to all parties involved, husband, wife, and children—a divine gift that’s not disposable. Sex equals marriage in God’s eyes…promiscuity, then, becomes the sin of adultery.
Though God is never mentioned in the 1,700-word article in The Week, the last word is, somewhat ironically, “grace” and answers the title question (What’s the point of marriage?). The marriage covenant, consummated with solemn vows and sexual union, is sealed with God’s grace. Aunt Thede was right…
“It takes two to make one and that’s the Lord’s way.”
Pastor E.B. Holschuh serves at Zion Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Alamo. He is a retired Navy Senior Chief and former English and Russian teacher.