In this weekend’s gospel some Pharisees ask Jesus whether it is permitted to divorce one’s wife, saying that “Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.” In actuality Moses, in Deuteronomy 24:1, was setting a limit on divorce, demanding justifiable reasons for a practice that was practiced in effect at the whim of a husband. Women had few legal rights and were considered property being transferred at the wedding from father to husband, the background for the father, without the mother, walking his daughter down the aisle and “giving her away” (an expression not used in Catholic weddings). Technically, a Jewish man was required to provide proof of something “indecent.” In Jesus’ time, rabbis differed in their interpretation of what qualified as “indecent,” some allowing almost anything including having lost her youthful beauty, prompting the question here to be expanded in Matthew 19:3, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason whatever?” In Malachi 2:15-16 we read: “You must safeguard life that is your own and not break faith with the wife of your youth. For I hate divorce, says the Lord the God of Israel.” Sometimes people only see what they want to see in God’s word and ignore the rest.
For Jesus, marriage is a commitment of permanence and mutuality reflecting our relationship of God with the church as his bride, an image St. Paul employed in his letter to the Ephesians (5:25) telling husbands to “love your wives as Christ loved the church.”