October 7, 2018
Sunday, October 7
Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mark 10: 2 – 16
The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked,
“Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?”
They were testing him.
He said to them in reply, “What did Moses command you?”
“Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce
and dismiss her.”
But Jesus told them,
“Because of the hardness of your hearts
he wrote you this commandment.
But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.
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,
no human being must separate.”
In the house the disciples again questioned Jesus about this.
He said to them,
“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another
commits adultery against her;
and if she divorces her husband and marries another,
she commits adultery.”
And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them,
but the disciples rebuked them.
When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them,
“Let the children come to me;
do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to
such as these.
Amen, I say to you,
whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child
will not enter it.”
Then he embraced them and blessed them,
placing his hands on them.
There are certain words or phrases that are HOT BUTTONS in religion (outside of politics). Abortion, Death Penalty, Marriage, Same-sex marriage – just to name a few. Another one is the focus of today’s passage – DIVORCE. In any congregation there will be people who are divorced and single, divorced and remarried, should be divorced, engaged couples, single people and married people, widows and widowers. People have very definite views on each and some to the point of demonizing anyone who may have an alternate view or those who can see the grey area in any “black/white” issue. According to Pope Francis, it is not careful legal interpretation but the integration of mercy and justice that is needed when we are encountering people in pain.
It helps to understand the Law that the Pharisees are asking about. Divorce was an issue that was and is and probably always will be debated among religious teachers. In Jewish tradition “debate” is the most common way of probing an issue hoping to discover a deeper and perhaps bigger truth. Jesus responds to the Pharisees’ question with a question. “What does Moses command?” Pharisees were masters of the law; they knew the teaching (their goal was almost always to trap Jesus not to discover a bigger truth). The Mosaic law they are speaking of goes back to Deuteronomy 24:1 – “Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, so he writes her a certificate of divorce….” Ending a marriage was that easy — say “I divorce you” and have the certificate written. Keep in mind that it was only the husband who could do this. Women had no say, no rights and no voice in the matter. “…something objectionable about her,” is the key phrase.
Divorce for a woman of Jesus’ time would put her in dire straits. For the most part women did not own property and were not allowed to work. Marriage would provide them and their children support and protection. On their own they would be hard-pressed to find life’s essentials. Hence, the law was crucial for protection of women and their children from the more powerful forces aligned against them. Jesus always reaches out to protect the most vulnerable.
In the strictest sense it could only be adultery that could lead to divorce, but in practice it could be any reason from the sublime to the ridiculous. Therefore, the law was crucial for protection of women and their children. Women and children were considered property and easily disposed of.
Today we could debate the issue of divorce and remarriage as simply right or wrong, and never get to the underlying pain in a marriage that often leads to divorce. Divorce is serious, and society is affected by a blasé attitude towards it. Society is also affected by a rigid opposition to ending unhealthy and unholy relationships. Divorce involves legal issues, family issues, and deep relationship issues. It is complex and most of it lies in the grey areas of life issues.
Jesus takes the Pharisees back to Genesis and the story of creation. Human beings are meant to be in relationship. To sit in the judgement seat and make “divorce” a black and white issue, is to go right to the letter of the law and miss the spirit of the law, for which Jesus always advocates. We must step back and ask the pastoral questions. We need to know that some marriages should never have been and should not continue. Marriage is a serious commitment. It is not an easy choice and not something that should end without thinking things through.
Marriage is meant to be permanent, but the reality is that many are not and should not be. Many marriages should never have happened. And some should never continue. I have sat with too many people whose lives and families were ruined because they stayed in a bad and almost always toxic marriage. Marriage should not be entered into lightly or casually. Nor should it be ended lightly or casually. It is not easy to be married. The wife and the husband need to work at their marriage, to help it to grow into a holy union; to be mutually faithful; to become one flesh.
Jesus does not reject law. He wants the spirit of the law to have order, structure and to provide nurturing for those most in need. We must ask how we, as a Church, help those who are married to grow in that relationship to make it stronger? Often the emphasis is on pre-Cana and there is barely anything for post-Cana. We also must ask, how we as a Church community walk with those who divorce and, in many cases, remarry?
In speaking of divorce and remarriage, Pope Francis urges that we hold justice and mercy together and not rigidly hold or become obsessed with legal interpretation. Each case needs to be approached with a pastoral heart.
Children are the second part of today’s gospel. Considering our ongoing crisis of clergy abuse of children and the abuse of power on the part of some of the hierarchy of the Church, and our obligations to protect our vulnerable members, Jesus’ words are empowering. One way of “embracing,” and “blessing” children, as Jesus does, is for church members, clergy and laity, to call for full and appropriate disclosure, the removing of violators from working in the church and to do whatever we can to facilitate healing among those who have been betrayed and violated.
Jesus’ rebuke of the behavior of his disciples and his instructions to them about proper behavior towards the least, challenge and empower all of us disciples not to take a “wait and see” attitude, but to do what we can now to move us out of the muck in which we now find ourselves.
I would encourage those who are suffering the pains of divorce or remarriage make an appointment to talk with Msgr. Hendricks or Fr. Morris or one of our deacons. You might also want to consider joining a DIVORCE CARE GROUP. It is a caring group of people who will walk alongside you through one of life’s most difficult experiences. A new session begins at St. Matthew Church (Gahanna) on October 17, 2018.
Sister Teresa Tuite