27th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
There are “married” couples who ask themselves if it is worthy trying to reconcile a relationship that has actually started wrong and they hopelessly carry on without knowing until when. There is no love, no respect, no harmony, and even the children are trapped in and affected by their parents’ failure. Is it worthy to remain together? Can God demand that they prolong this state of hell? Is it not better that they just part ways and each re-starts again their own lives?
According to the “human logic” the answer to this question is undoubtedly “yes, it is better to separate.” Even the First Testament considers the possibility of a second marriage. In fact the Pharisees in general would never question the existence of divorce; at most they argued about what would constitute enough reason so to implement it.
Mark places this topic in the heart of his Gospel together with all the other most important teachings. It is certainly part of the central message because this idea of “absolute fidelity” bothers and embarrasses us. And there is no way to understand it, unless we place it within the “logic of the love Christ,” the selfless giving of one’s life.
When the Pharisees asked Jesus about this issue he, first of all explained to them the authentic meaning of Moses’s Law. People were accustomed to say that Moses allowed divorce, but in reality, no. Divorce existed since before Moses. He just established norms before a problematic situation that already existed and was accepted by all. He did not require from the Israelites in this regard a moral behavior superior to the other nations. He limited himself in creating a law that could protect the women: he determined that, in case a couple separated, the husband should give his wife a letter of divorce. Why? Because in this way the separation became formal and the women could also get married again without being considered adulterers, risking being stoned to death.
This tolerance of Moses is definitely not an expression of the ideal and original project of God. That is why Jesus invited those questioning him to see beyond the norms (of the law) and read the first chapters of Genesis. From the story of creation emerges, with much clarity, the purpose and meaning of the human sexuality. In the beginning God made “man” and “woman” not with the intention that they would engage into any crazy relationship dominated by sensations, adventures and urges, but that they would form stable couples, united as one through the love of God and under the Lord’s blessing. Separation is tantamount to destroying God’s work.
Divorce and polygamy are not part of God’s project, but they were introduced by men, and for a time, tolerated, due to the hardness of people’s heart. With Jesus, God’s Reign is established, prophecies are fulfilled, “a new heart and new Spirit” is given to humanity; it is the time to abandon the exceptions and return to the direction indicated by God in the beginning. Only the matrimony of one man with one woman respects the plan of God and the purpose for which we were created “man” and “woman.”
Even the disciples of Jesus were frustrated with the teaching of Jesus, but Jesus, in fact did not teach anything new on this topic; he just confirmed the original teaching of God that the matrimony is to be thought of as unbreakable. And it is true that the goal proposed here is very, very, very high compared to the human capacity to reach it. Some can reach it more easily, but many really struggle before accomplishing the objective. Certainly God knows the time of each one and it is not up to us to go around judging others.
Nowadays, more than ever, we face difficult situations which do not fit within the norms. For instance, what can we say about a couple who after few years of marriage separated, each to form a nice and happy family elsewhere with their respective spouses and children? Should we force them to abandon their present families and return to the original spouse? Or, is not the Christian Community perhaps challenged here to patiently demonstrate compassion and understanding? To show understanding and compassion when we encounter irregular situations does not necessarily mean renouncing the wisdom of the Gospel in exchange for a human way of thinking; sometimes it means “pastoral wisdom.” Each particular case is to be looked upon with much prudence; and each individual has to be understood, accompanied and helped so that he or she may accomplish the best possible for him or her, given the complexity of the circumstances.
Let us not allow those who have hearts sunk in self-righteousness and malicious tongues to cause our brothers and sisters who live irregularly to depart once and for all from God and religion. Those who failed in their first marriage are already deeply wounded and suffering and need someone who can understand, support and stand by them. How can they remain – from now on – steadfast and loyal during the moments of trial and suffering if from those whom they expected a word of support and encouragement all they get is criticism and humiliation?