Twenty seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time| Year B
Some Pharisees approached Jesus and asked, ‘Is it against the law for a man to divorce his wife?’ they were testing him. He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ ‘Moses allowed us’ they said ‘to draw up a writ of dismissal and so to divorce.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘It was because you were so unteachable that he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. This is why a man must leave father and mother, and the two become one body. They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide.’ Back in the house the disciples questioned him again about this, and he said to them, ‘The man who divorces his wife and marries another is guilty of adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another she is guilty of adultery too.’
People were bringing little children to him, for him to touch them. The disciples turned them away, but when Jesus saw this he was indignant and he said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. I tell you solemnly, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ Then he put his arms round them, laid his hands on them and gave them his blessing.
The Pharisees’ question was about a man divorcing his wife; when Jesus explains his teaching he refers to both the husband and wife. The concern Jesus had for women is evident in many well-known events in the gospels, but it is easy to miss the less obvious moments when Jesus counters the existing culture in relation to women.
In the depths of an unhappy marriage the teaching of Jesus on divorce may seem very harsh. The Church’s teaching on divorce and remarriage is often misunderstood and a sense of hurt results from a misunderstanding of the teaching rather than the teaching itself.
In relation to a marriage in difficulties the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says
“Yet there are some situations in which living together becomes practically impossible for a variety of reasons. In such cases the Church permits the physical separation of the couple and their living apart. The spouses do not cease to be husband and wife before God and so are not free to contract a new union. In this difficult situation, the best solution would be, if possible, reconciliation.” (CCC1649)
The Church does not require the spouses to stay in a marriage that may be damaging to one or both of them. Nor does it oppose civil law divorce. But the indissolubility of marriage implicit in Jesus words about a divorced person re-marrying, leads the Church to regard a second marriage as invalid while the first marriage partner is alive
Separating from a partner to whom a lifelong commitment was made is seldom without effect on the people involved, even if the separation is described as amicable. Every person will have their own unique set of emotions and feelings in varying intensity and depth, which can include a sense of failure, grief, hurt, loss of self-esteem and emotional pain beyond a label. There can also be relief that something which has been difficult and even harmful has ended, and a consequent feeling of liberation.
It is not the Church’s intention to dump on or judge people who have experienced suffering – often great suffering – in this way. The person who has emerged from a separation and divorce is in every way the same person as before it. More than ever a person in this situation needs a supportive and accepting community which can help to heal and restore, and help if needed with practical matters.
While many married couples understand on one level that marriage is for life, the Catholic who has had to separate understands this at a very profound level. The human need for the love and companionship of another is real, but so is that person’s love for God. In this situation, real sacrifice is involved.
In a seeming contradiction, the separated person who does not remarry becomes a witness to the indisolubility of marriage.