The Book of Ecclesiastes is part of the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament, and it contains a sensible, somewhat obscure, short passage on companionship and cooperation between fellow workers.
Several of the verses, particularly the image of the three-ply cord, can be reinterpreted to apply to the sacrament of marriage and the spiritual nature of the relationship between husband and wife (Ecclesiastes 4:9a,10,12).
The usual symbols for marriage are a single ring, two interlocking rings, the marriage cross, two clasped hands, a unity candle, a heart, two doves, three flowers or a tied knot. A three-ply cord could easily be added to the list.
“Two are better than one” (Ecclesiastes 4:9a).
For those called by God to the vocation of marriage, it is better to be united to your spouse and enjoy a lifetime of companionship than to live a solitary life. Before meeting, the man and woman were individuals, single strands of rope, far apart.
When they met, the two ropes drew side-by-side, but with no relationship yet they were only close together, not intertwined.
The principles of engineering apply. A wire or thread is strong in itself. Strength is added by increasing the number of strands of wire or thread, and greatly enhanced by weaving or twisting them together. Examples would be the cables of a suspension bridge or a nylon tow-rope used to pull skiers.
A two-ply start
“If the one falls, the other will lift up his companion. Woe to the solitary person!” (Ecclesiastes 4:10).
As the couple establishes a shared relationship, they are no longer separate ropes. Their lives become increasingly intertwined. This follows the principles of love engineering: the greater the love, the stronger the bond, the tighter the weave, the stronger the rope, the stronger the relationship. Inseparably linked, if one spouse should ever fall or encounter difficulty, the other is always near and ready to help.
“Where a lone man may be overcome, two together can resist. A three-ply cord is not easily broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
Up to this point, the entire passage focuses on a two-person partnership. Then unexpectedly, as a final “twist,” a third party is added, with a reference to a cord or a rope.
Every marriage is a three-way relationship between God, the husband and the wife. If a strong man and a strong woman make a strong couple, just think what the presence of the all-powerful God adds to the strength of a marriage! When God is at the middle cord, the center of the marriage, the rope becomes so strong that it can sustain hurricane-force winds and it does not fray or unravel.
The goal of a Christian marriage is for the three marriage partners to become increasingly intertwined. When the husband or wife prays or performs good works, either individually or together, they grow closer to God and tighten the weave, and mysteriously and wondrously, growing closer to God draws them closer to each other.
And when husband and wife truly love each other, when they are kind, patient, polite, humble, concerned, self-controlled and forgiving (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-5), they grow closer to each other, tighten the weave, and mysteriously and wondrously grow closer to God.
Some say that marriage is about “tying the knot,” but it is better explained as “weaving a rope.”
Father Michael Van Sloun is pastor of St. Stephen in Anoka.