Ancient Wisdom for a Modern Problem

Ara the Handsome and Shamiram

The Armenian legend of ‘Ara Geghetsik (Handsome) and Shamiram (Semiramis)’ dates back thousands of years and is survived to our days thanks to Movses Khorenatsi’s monumental work “The History of Armenia.” It is a beautiful tale of true patriotism and the tragic love of the Armenian King Ara and the Assyrian Queen Shamiram. The legend emerges in its full glory and grace especially when we examine it in its historical context and background. The Armenian Kingdom of Urartu and the Assyrian Empire were mortal enemies. They conquered each other time after time and burned down cities and towns more than one can recall or count. It is remarkable that today, the complex and complicated common history of Armenians and Assyrians is not remembered through tales of war, hostility and hate, but through a beautiful legend of love. The legend highlights and reminds us that there is so much more to life than hostility, conflict and confrontation.

Today, as thousands of years ago, there is so much conflict and hostility, so many sources of divisions, political, social, cultural debates and controversies that impact our lives, families and communities. How do we respond? How do we engage in a meaningful and spiritual way in such cases? 

In today’s Gospel reading we see some Pharisees approach Jesus and ask him a seemingly innocent question, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (Mark 10:2). Unlike the other synoptic Gospels, Mark adds a small but important comment to the beginning of this story. He tells us that Pharisees asked this question to test Jesus. At the time there was a major controversy surrounding the second marriage of King Herod who divorced his wife and married his brother’s wife. John the Baptist confronted the King strongly and condemned him which eventually cost St. John his life. So the Pharisees were perhaps trying to engage Jesus in this very controversial religious and political debate. 

There is so much to appreciate and learn from Jesus’ response and handling of this very delicate matter. Instead of debating, condemning anyone or anything, siding with one position or another, He gently redirects and centers the discussion on God, the Holy Bible and the spiritual significance and perspective of marriage and love.

We live in a world that claims and strives to be inclusive and diverse. But when controversies and debates shake our society, there is often a vivid and dangerous lack of compassion, tolerance, understanding, and love in our dialogues and engagements with others. As Christians and children of light, our primary calling and ministry in this world is not to defend political leaders and agendas or analyze complex geopolitical, economic and cultural events, but to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and to love our neighbor (Mark 12:29-31), which include the guy on Facebook whose comments irritate us and who is so hard to ignore let alone love. Of course, sometimes there are very important issues being discussed that directly impact us, our families and our way of life from which we can not and should not be trying to insulate and isolate ourselves. But instead, we should strive and follow the example of our Lord by always focusing on what really matters, realigning and centering all our engagements and efforts on God, faith and always radiating with his divine invitation of loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.

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