Which pill are you swallowing? – Friday, 19th week in ordinary time- Matthew 19: 3-12
With His teaching on community ethics now done and dusted, Jesus leaves His ‘headquarters’ in Galilee and heads south to Judea. Large crowds continue to follow him and he does what he came to do; cure them. The narrative in today’s Gospel takes place several months before His final trip to Jerusalem, where He will be crucified.
Having already set in motion the plan to kill Jesus, the Pharisees are now stacking up evidence to use against Him. They have come to ‘test’ Him. Make no mistake, they are not testing His ‘knowledge’ but trying to drive a wedge into the growing number of His disciples with the content of His answer.
So what’s so deadly about this contentious question? The question thrown at Jesus is about legality; can one legally divorce one’s wife for any cause? This was a catch twenty-two, a damned-if-you-do answer and damned-if-you-don’t, for this question already had the Jewish community divided down the middle.
At the heart of this issue were two rabbinic schools of thought. The school of Hillel held that divorce could be granted for some rather frivolous reasons. A man could divorce his wife over bad cooking or because the wife left her head uncovered, or to say nothing of the ‘must happen’, the inevitable; a fight with the in-laws. All these and more could be grounds for a divorce. On the other hand, the school of Shammai, held that divorce could be granted only in the case of moral impurity such as adultery.
We have no idea which school of thought was behind the question posed to Jesus but we can be sure of this: He understood the implications of even appearing to take any particular side. Jesus was not here to take sides but to go back to the truth. In answering the Pharisees, He passes a snide remark at His detractors to expose their hypocrisy. If this answer should be known to anyone, it should most certainly begin with these learned Pharisees who certainly have not read the scriptures carefully.
Jesus takes the discussion to where it all began; the Garden of Eden. He takes a step back in time, even before the matter found reference in Deuteronomy 24. For Jesus, the bigger picture begins with what God ordained. Marriage is His idea, not ours and so we have no business to alter, delete, subtract or alienate.
Interestingly, Jesus is doing some serious course corrections. While the issue in question seems to be divorce, the real issue lies with the understanding of marriage. That is why Jesus re-visits the first human marriage.
Marriage is not easy! Sadly, we have romanticised the idea of marriage. Families have pushed loved ones into marriage merely to fulfil a social expectation. We must come to accept that all are not called to married life. The Church, in the vows the couples are asked to make, acknowledges the challenges of married life when she insists that it is not for the couple to formulate some poetically written vows but rather take the vows that acknowledge the truth of marriage; that while there are good times, there will also be bad times and one must choose to love in good times and the worst.
Marriage is not a tool to fix ‘broken people.’ So often we hear people say, “Get him(her) married and the problem will be solved, he(she) will become responsible.” Marriage is a sacrament, not a psychological tool to fix people. As a sacrament, it must be treated with holiness and reverence. Parents who insist that their children marry in Church even when their child has professed himself or herself to be a non-believer or a lapsed catholic, do a great disservice to the sacrament. In our desire not to be embarrassed before our relatives and to ‘look good’ to the world we cause grievous harm to the sanctity of the sacrament.
The same must be said of mixed marriages in Church. While the Church, with conditions, permits the ‘nuptials’ to be held in Church, it should not be done primarily to please the parents or society. It is God we ought to please, for it is with Him as a witness, that we pledge love and fidelity. Sadly, most Catholics who enter into ‘disparity of cult’ marriages (Catholic with a Hindu/Muslim/Jew etc) are not even aware that such a marriage, even though held in Church, is not a sacrament but merely a ‘nuptial rite.’
As a pastor I have seen more than my share of Catholics who marry a person of another faith in the Church, merely to please mummy and daddy, with mummy and daddy insisting on the ‘mass’ being celebrated while there is a perfectly valid nuptial rite that can be held; reading, homily et al but without the eucharistic prayer. But sadly, mummy and daddy want to be made happy or want catholic society to be happy – not God.
Finally, to married couples – Marriage needs to be approached with the purpose that God had in mind; mutual love and procreation. When couples speak of not having children or ‘postponing’ conception, they violate the very reason for marriage. This is not some personal choice that you make. If you choose to freely be married in the presence of almighty God and his Church, then you do it keeping his idea of marriage in mind and not change the goalpost along the way to suit your comforts and personal beliefs. Contraception is a grave moral sin and that can not be changed because you find it a hard pill to swallow while conveniently swallowing other pills.
It would be better not to be married in Church if one has already intended to disregard the purpose of marriage as ordained by God.