Divorce? May It Be Done on Earth as It is in Heaven
A Reflection on The Gospel According to St Matthew 19:3-12
In today’s Gospel, the Lord is answering yet another challenge from the Pharisees. It seems, that He will never pass their test. This time it is about divorce. They ask,
“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?” (Matthew 19:3)
What none seem to understand then, and now, is that divorce, from the perspective of He who is pure love (1 John 4:8), is an impossibility. Jesus is quoting Scripture back to the Pharisees when He answers,
“God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27 NABRE) “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.” (Genesis 2:24 NABRE)
It is that simple. The Lord adds,
“So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” (Matthew 19:6 NABRE)
This only makes biological and spiritual sense. No human can separate a body and have it continue to live. No human has any ability to divide Christ, the spiritual center of the married couple, from the “one flesh.” Yet, the Pharisees press Jesus with the exception given by Moses from the book of Deuteronomy 24:1. Jesus puts an end to this discussion bluntly by saying that Moses only allowed divorce because of the sinfulness of the people, He asserts His authority as God by saying,
“I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:9 NABRE)
When Jesus says, “I say to you,” there is no other authority that trumps what He instructs. God is the creator and author of the Sacraments given as gift. He tells us that if a marriage is lawful; validly entered into, with knowledge, without coercion, freely, wholeheartedly, and in accord with the precepts of the Church, marriage is a sacrament, and this is NOT subject to human decision. Also, the sin, adultery, is not in the separation, but in remarrying.
With any of the Lord’s responses we should always seek to comprehend the depth in what Jesus is saying. At one level, He is addressing human divorce. Yet, there is an even deeper meaning to the Lord’s response. There is a heavenly wedding that must be considered. What cannot be considered in heaven should not be considered on earth. How could it be otherwise?
Brant Pitre in his book, “Jesus the Bridegroom” writes,
From an ancient Jewish perspective, the relationship between God and Israel that was established at Mount Sinai was not just a sacred bond revolving around the laws of the Ten Commandments. From the perspective of the biblical prophets, what happened at Mount Sinai was nothing less than a divine wedding. (Pitre 9).
God also seeks marriage with us. Our receiving of First Holy Communion is nothing less than a divine wedding and every time afterwards strengthens or renews that marital union. Sacred Scripture tells of the Lord’s desire for beautiful, intimate, union with each and every believer, so that we may become one flesh. We hear in the Gospel of John,
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (John 6:56 NABRE)
“Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.” (John 15:4 NABRE)
In “remaining,” our Lord with the other, there is no greater marital intimacy! The Greek word for, “remain,” in both verses is “meno” (μένω) meaning to stay or endure such that the two are inseparable. (Liddell) In Holy Communion we become one in flesh with the Lord. St Augustine writes,
“… every celebration [of the Eucharist] is a celebration of marriage: it is the Church’s marriage that is celebrated. The king’s son is about to marry, and the king’s son is himself a king and those who attend are themselves the bride. … there the bride is joined to her bridegroom in the flesh.” (Augustine, Tract. In ep. Joan. 2.2)
As we prepare ourselves for Communion we hear in the Communion Rite,
“Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” (Roman Missal 132)
The Supper of the Lamb is the wedding feast referred to in the Book of Revelation,
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory. For the wedding day of the Lamb has come, his bride has made herself ready. She was allowed to wear a bright, clean linen garment.” (Revelation 19:7–8)
As we approach to receive the Eucharist at Mass, we walk down a wedding aisle to receive the Bridegroom. You have heard His wedding vows in the Liturgy of the Eucharist
“take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my body, which will be given up for you…. take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Roman Missal 3d Ed 102-103)
Christ in the Eucharist gives Himself completely in love for us and to us. It is a marriage. Divorce is not even a remote possibility. God is always faithful. When we are presented with the “Body of Christ,” our “Amen” is our wedding vow. Our “Amen” declares, “I, take you, … I promise to be faithful to you, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love you and to honor you forever.”
The Lord tells us in the Gospel today, … the married couple are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” When we consider our heavenly wedding, how could divorce ever happen? How could God ever allow it? God is always faithful. In sin we are adulterous, for we forsake our spouse to turn to some other form of attraction; yet, when we turn back, He is always waiting. Our heavenly spouse vows. “I promise to be faithful, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love you and to honor you forever.” Our Lord never takes His vow lightly, nor should we.
Our heavenly wedding is our hope and salvation. So, what about divorce? How could Jesus have answered the question any other way? May it be done on earth as it is in heaven. Thanks be to God, there is no such thing as heavenly divorce. God is always faithful.
Augustine. Homilies on the First Epistle of John (Tractatus in Epistolam Joannis Ad Parthos). Ed. Daniel E. Doyle, Thomas Martin, and Boniface Ramsey. Trans. Boniface Ramsey. Vol. 14. Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2008. Print. The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century.
Liddell, Henry George et al. A Greek-English lexicon 1996: 1103. Print.
New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.
Pitre, Brant James. Jesus the Bridegroom (p. 146). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
The Roman Missal: Renewed by Decree of the Most Holy Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, Promulgated by Authority of Pope Paul VI, and Revised at the Direction of Pope John Paul II. Third Typical Edition. Washington D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.
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I believe the beginning of the dissolution of Christendom and the devolution of western culture was when the Protestantism was essentially founded on divorce and civil marriage rather than considering marriage a sacrament and permanent, via the Anglican church. The stigma attached to divorce slowly eroded as inherited cultural norms of Catholicism faded into the past, and society gradually fell apart as its most basic foundational social institution became broken. That is what happens when one accepts the rule of a king, a government or secular culture as having more authority than either the plain Word of God or the one Church He founded and guaranteed against all influences of evil. As a single Catholic in a 90%+ Protestant area, that makes it very, very hard for me to date. Nearly every single woman within even 20 year so my age has been married and divorced... often several times. My neighbors have divorced and remarried 3 and 4 times respectively... and one just divorced again due to infidelity. But, the preacher of the church they go to is on his 3rd wife... and everyone thinks that is just fine. So much for sola scriptura!
Wow - what an impactful message. It makes one wonder: Have I made every effort to stay faithful to him? As I walk up to receive my groom, am I in a state of readiness? Am I looking forward to receiving him or am I ashamed? Either way - his arms are always open to me in his faithfulness and forgiveness.