18 August
Mt 19:3-12

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 from 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."

On the very first page of the Bible, in the Book of Genesis (1:27) there is a beautiful lyrical description of the creation of man and woman: “God made human beings in his own image, in his own image he created them; male and female he created them.” (see also 5:2)  ‘Adam’ is not a name like James or John; it means ‘the creature made of dust’ (the word for which is ‘adamah’ in Hebrew).  In the first three chapters of Genesis, ‘Adam’ means man and woman equally.  Obviously, then, man and woman are on an equal footing and both are equally images of God. 

All this, of course, is before the Fall!  After the Fall, all is changed.  Humans are seen as being under a curse, and they suffer differently for it. To the man, God said, "By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken" (Gen 3:19).  To the woman he said, “Your husband shall rule over you” (Gen 3:16).  Scholars regard this as a reflection of actual conditions in the ancient Near East at the time that Genesis was written.  In particular, in reflects the position of women in society at that time.  A woman was subject first to her father, and then to her husband.  She was subject to them because she was their property.  The ninth Commandment, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife,” had nothing to do with chastity.  The neighbour’s wife was seen as his property: “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour. (Exodus 20:17)

Divorce was very easily obtained in the time of Jesus.  Some Rabbis taught that if a woman ruined a meal or spoke badly about her in-laws her husband could divorce her; some even said that if a man spotted a woman who was more beautiful than his wife he could divorce his wife.

All this was the background to the Pharisees' question to Jesus, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"  Instead of going into a legal haggle with them about the law of Moses, Jesus harked back to the original state of innocence (before the Genesis story of the expulsion from Eden).  He affirmed the original state over the corrupted one; he stated God's idea of man, woman, and marriage.  The original state was the companionship of equals, not ownership by the man; it was love, not domination and subjection. 

Today, wherever husbands and wives respect and love each other, refusing to regard each other as property - disposable or otherwise - the mind of Christ is made visible and human beings are living in a state of original innocence instead of original sin.


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This page gives a very brief commentary by Donagh O’Shea on the gospel reading for each day of the month. 


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