Not to be discarded

– Friday 10th Week in Ordinary Time –

“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have learnt how it was said: You must not commit adultery. But I say this to you: if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart…’It has also been said: Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a writ of dismissal. But I say this to you: everyone who divorces his wife, except for the case of fornication, makes her an adulteress; and anyone who marries a divorced women commits adultery.'” [Matthew 5:27-33 abbreviated]

The Church’s position on marriage, recognising it as deeply profound and meaningful and the strongest bond two people can make, has sadly been the cause of significant pain for many over the years. Some lament that marriage was ever recognised as a sacrament in the first place (it hasn’t always been the case), for it has brought a degree of moral and canonical complexity that many would like to reverse.

Yet there is no getting around this gospel text, even while seeking to respond to all who find themselves living with the breakdown of their marriages with all the compassion that our faith in God demands of us.

What is Jesus getting at here? Why does he appear not to understand that there are times when these things are outside people’s control?

He understands alright, but he is addressing a different question. It had become a practice within his religious milieu that women could be ‘dismissed’ from the marriage almost on a whim. At that time, a woman abandoned in this way had few options – often being reduced to poverty and finding employment in any way she could. She could easily be exploited.

Jesus’s words are directed to the men. In effect, he is saying – you cannot treat your wives like that. You have entered into a covenant with her, and she has rights as a result.

Each of us is to understand how we treat one another matters. This is certainly the case with regard to our spouses, as those to whom we have made a binding commitment.

As for the rest – in all things, mercy.


by Shane Dwyer

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