Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel together at Shechem; then he called the elders, leaders, judges and scribes of Israel, and they presented themselves before God. Then Joshua said to all the people:
‘The Lord, the God of Israel says this, “In ancient days your ancestors lived beyond the River – such was Terah the father of Abraham and of Nahor – and they served other gods. Then I brought your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan. I increased his descendants and gave him Isaac. To Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. To Esau I gave the mountain country of Seir as his possession. Jacob and his sons went down into Egypt. Then I sent Moses and Aaron and plagued Egypt with the wonders that I worked there. So I brought you out of it. I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, and you came to the Sea; the Egyptians pursued your ancestors with chariots and horsemen as far as the Sea of Reeds. There they called to the Lord, and he spread a thick fog between you and the Egyptians, and made the sea go back on them and cover them. You saw with your own eyes the things I did in Egypt. Then for a long time you lived in the wilderness, until I brought you into the land of the Amorites who lived beyond the Jordan; they made war on you and I gave them into your hands; you took possession of their country because I destroyed them before you. Next, Balak son of Zippor the king of Moab arose to make war on Israel, and sent for Balaam son of Beor to come and curse you. But I would not listen to Balaam; instead, he had to bless you, and I saved you from his hand.
‘“When you crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho, those who held Jericho fought against you, as did the Amorites and Perizzites, the Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites, but I put them all into your power. I sent out hornets in front of you, which drove the two Amorite kings before you; this was not the work of your sword or your bow. I gave you a land where you never toiled, you live in towns you never built; you eat now from vineyards and olive-groves you never planted.”’
Some Pharisees approached Jesus, and to test him they said, ‘Is it against the Law for a man to divorce his wife on any pretext whatever?’ He answered, ‘Have you not read that the creator from the beginning made them male and female and that he said: This is why a man must leave father and mother, and cling to his wife, 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.’
They said to him, ‘Then why did Moses command that a writ of dismissal should be given in cases of divorce?’ ‘It was because you were so unteachable’ he said ‘that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but it was not like this from the beginning. Now I say this to you: the man who divorces his wife – I am not speaking of fornication – and marries another, is guilty of adultery.’
The disciples said to him, ‘If that is how things are between husband and wife, it is not advisable to marry.’ But he replied, ‘It is not everyone who can accept what I have said, but only those to whom it is granted. There are eunuchs born that way from their mother’s womb, there are eunuchs made so by men and there are eunuchs who have made themselves that way for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.’
‘It is not everyone who can accept what I have said, but only those to whom it is granted.
The human race has been unteachable since the dawn of time. Ancient civilisations have been unteachable even as they developed in wisdom and technology – hence their extinction. The modern and post-modern society is just as unteachable today, as much as the agrarian and feudal and monastic societies were. Let’s break it down further: to this very day, we can be as stubbornly unteachable as our parents, grandparents, forefathers. The readings today remind us about how much mercy and redemption we are really in need of.
It is indeed a ‘hard teaching’ of the sin of divorce and adultery that the Pharisees confronted Jesus with in the gospel passage of Matthew today. They were trying to snare Jesus on the technicalities (of the Jewish Law) and see if his so-called teachings of justice and mercy were contradictory on this particular issue. We can see it so painfully true in our world today.
Jesus does not budge or become apologetic about the fundamental nature of man. He especially calls out the Pharisees on this sin of unteachability first and foremost as the basis on which Moses commanded a writ of dismissal be given in cases of divorce. It still is not right for a marriage to be dissolved and for a man to divorce his wife. For marriage is a covenant, a binding promise, representative of the covenant that God made with His Creation that He would always be with us. If God, despite our repeated betrayals and travesties against Him, can be unrelenting in His love, mercy, and desire to still be wedded and faithful in his promise of salvation to us, who are we to ungratefully demand to dispense with Him?
Only an unteachable and ungrateful generation would repeatedly deny receiving God’s goodness and mercy.
Yet, we know of other sins that came along when divorce remained illegal in the past. The sin of adultery and murder became the route which men and women took as the means to their desired ends. Wasn’t this what King David himself did? Indeed, as the disciples foolishly responded, ‘If that is how things are between husband and wife, it is not advisable to marry.’ This refrain is so heartlessly and callously repeated even today. Many people point to others’ failing, struggling, or difficult marriages, in blame: “This is the reason why I will not get married.” This is also why many children who grew up watching their parents fumble through their own marriages lose hope and vision of how a real Christ-like marriage could be.
Not even the Christian life is to be expected to be easy. What more a Christian marriage? But even more elemental than that, all relationships are messy, difficult, and trying endeavours! Whoever has never argued and been challenged to accountability by a really close friend before? If you had ever ditched a friendship because it is tough or deemed it unworthy because of pride and stubbornness, then humbly, we need to acknowledge that a marriage that binds two imperfect and wounded persons could be exponentially difficult.
The baseline for living in peace and harmony in community, family, and marriage, is to pray for a heart of humility and teachability. From this point, we can hope to transform and transfigure our worldview, modus operandi, and expectations towards our relationships and the holy and worthy task of loving someone and learning to be loved. Yes, Jesus does teach that there is mercy regardless for those who have endured the painful process of divorce. All of us intuitively and ultimately deeply seek a covenantal promise of love that will never be broken. It has been written in our DNA. The question is, how teachable are we in the practice of loving another person? The next question is, how teachable are we in the follow-up to making mistakes and failing to live up to our promises? May we remember: We love because He first loved us.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
Prayer: A wedding is for a day, but a marriage is for a lifetime on earth, and can be our passport to eternity. May we pray to God for a heart of teachability in this journey of learning to love another person, and to remain in love.
Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for your unending mercy to me. For giving me countless second chances. Help me never to take it for granted and spurn your love.