Marriage Intentions

Some Pharisees approached Jesus, and tested him, saying,
“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?”
He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning
the Creator 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, man must not separate.”
They said to him, “Then why did Moses command
that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss her?”
He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts
Moses allowed you to divorce your wives,
but from the beginning it was not so.
I say to you, whoever divorces his wife
(unless the marriage is unlawful)
and marries another commits adultery.”
His disciples said to him,
“If that is the case of a man with his wife,
it is better not to marry.”
He answered, “Not all can accept this word,
but only those to whom that is granted.
Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so;
some, because they were made so by others;
some, because they have renounced marriage
for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”
(Matthew 19:3-12)

Scripture Study

19:3 Tested him: the verb is used of attempts of Jesus’ opponents to embarrass him by challenging him to do something they think impossible (Mt 16:1; Mk 8:11; Lk 11:16) or by having him say something that they can use against him (Mt 22:18, 35; Mk 10:2; 12:15). For any cause whatever: this is peculiar to Matthew and has been interpreted by some as meaning that Jesus was being asked to take sides in the dispute between the schools of Hillel and Shammai on the reasons for divorce, the latter holding a stricter position than the former. It is unlikely, however, that to ask Jesus’ opinion about the differing views of two Jewish schools, both highly respected, could be described as “testing” him, for the reason indicated above.

19:4–6 Matthew recasts his Marcan source, omitting Jesus’ question about Moses’ command (Mk 10:3) and having him recall at once two Genesis texts that show the will and purpose of the Creator in making human beings male and female (Gn 1:27), namely, that a man may be joined to his wife in marriage in the intimacy of one flesh (Gn 2:24). What God has thus joined must not be separated by any human being. (The NAB translation of the Hebrew bāśār of Gn 2:24 as “body” rather than “flesh” obscures the reference of Matthew to that text.)

19:7 See Dt 24:1–4

19:9 Moses’ concession to human sinfulness (the hardness of your hearts, Mt 19:8) is repudiated by Jesus, and the original will of the Creator is reaffirmed against that concession. (Unless the marriage is unlawful): see note on Mt 5:31–32. Matthew removes Mark’s setting of this verse as spoken to the disciples alone “in the house” (Mk 10:10) and also his extension of the divorce prohibition to the case of a woman’s divorcing her husband (Mk 10:12), probably because in Palestine, unlike the places where Roman and Greek law prevailed, the woman was not allowed to initiate the divorce.

19:11 [This] word: probably the disciples’ “it is better not to marry” (Mt 19:10). Jesus agrees but says that celibacy is not for all but only for those to whom that is granted by God.

19:12 Incapable of marriage: literally, “eunuchs.” Three classes are mentioned, eunuchs from birth, eunuchs by castration, and those who have voluntarily renounced marriage (literally, “have made themselves eunuchs”) for the sake of the kingdom, i.e., to devote themselves entirely to its service. Some scholars take the last class to be those who have been divorced by their spouses and have refused to enter another marriage. But it is more likely that it is rather those who have chosen never to marry, since that suits better the optional nature of the decision: whoever can … ought to accept it.

Scripture Reflection

Jesus’ teaching on the permanence of marriage is just as countercultural today as it was in the first century. To those who have experienced the challenges that come with married life, his standards may seem unrealistically high. For this reason it is important to recognize that Jesus speaks of marriage in terms that imply the assistance of grace. The word grace does not appear in these verses, but the idea that God can enable men and women to fulfill this exalted vocation is latent in the discussion.

Consider the contrast that is drawn between Mosaic and messianic times. If Moses permitted divorce and remarriage to accommodate the hardheartedness of Israel, then the Messiah’s repeal of this concession indicates a new human situation, in which the heart is healed of its infirmity and divinely empowered to embrace marriage as a lifetime commitment. It implies a regeneration of the human person from the inside out. Only when the Lord enriches our lives with his grace can the ideal of marriage for life become the real experience of men and women joined together as one.

– Curtis Mitch

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.

 

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