Some Pharisees came to Jesus, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?’ He answered, ‘Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female”, and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?’ He said to them, ‘It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but at the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.’
His disciples said to him, ‘If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.’ But he said to them, ‘Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.’
As I journey with couples who are preparing to make the life-long commitment of Holy Marriage, there always comes a time when we speak of forgiveness and tolerance. As couples stand next to each other in church making those well-known vows of love and fidelity, they are making a public declaration that there will never be anyone more important in their lives than the person who is standing next to them at that moment. Every couple who comes to the point of standing before God, joining hands, making those solemn vows and exchanging those precious rings, is doing so in the joyous hope of a life of happy marriage. But … sadly … that hope does not always stand the test of time.
There are many reasons why marriages come to an untimely end. Some involve betrayal of trust, while others are rooted in disinterest and disaffection. Some are rooted in a specific action, while others are the end of a long journey of separation. Whatever the cause, it is a fact of modern life that marriages do end before the lifelong commitment of the marriage vows has run its course. Some marriages are dissolved on the ruling of an earthly judge, in accordance with an earthly legal code, in order that damaged lives might find healing and renewal.
In today’s reading we hear Jesus’ teaching on the subject of divorce, but within a specific context. Unlike his teaching on this subject in other gospels, in this passage Jesus’ teaching is nuanced. The Pharisees went to Jesus and asked him about the law of Moses in respect to this difficult subject. Jesus’ response is nuanced in the sense that he offers an explanation for Moses’ ruling in this matter. Moses was responding to a human need and not a divine ideal. The teaching of God is clear. Men and women are created in the image of God. In God’s world, men and women are meant to be companions for each other, and in marriage they become one, indivisible, flesh. Divorce is not something that should happen, but even Jesus seems to accept the grounds of sexual infidelity as appropriate justification.
In the modern world, there is a greater sense of understanding when it comes to the way in which human beings relate to each other within the world of God’s wonderful creation. But … if they come to the point of making a faithful commitment to each other, they have to understand that God’s ideal is not that that should be a commitment that is easily set aside. We are all called to live a life of faithful commitment, if not to a human partner then to the God who created us in his own image.
Let us pray for the strength to forgive those nearest and dearest to us. Let us pray that we might be ever faithful to those with whom we have found love and companionship, and to the God who blessed that relationship.