The National Catholic Review
We have seen four stories that follow in a certain logic upon the first prediction of the passion/resurrection: conditions of discipleship, the Transfiguration, the mystery of Elijah who ’restores all things’, and the faith to call upon Jesus in prayer for healing. We continued with the second prediction of passion/resurrection, and here we saw four stories: what makes one ’the greatest’, faith in Jesus as a source of unity, exaggerations meant to emphasize the evil in hurting ’little ones’, and the faith as essential that life have meaning. Three stories more now follow upon the logic of suffering which leads to resurrection for the disciple. First, there is the problem of divorce in the Israel of Jesus’ experience. The problem is broached by the Pharisees, to test the competence of Jesus to interpret the Law of Moses. The Pharisees fault Jesus for not allowing divorce. To be precise, the Mosaic Law says nothing against divorce; it only insists that in the case of divorce, a woman be given a legal document to prove she is divorced. (Without this document, the woman can be stoned to death for consorting with a man not known to be her husband.) There is no doubt, Jesus thinks, that the Law insists on just protection for the woman, but this Law does not speak to the justice or injustice of the divorce itself. The Pharisees and others conclude that Moses’ knowledge of the existence of divorce, without command against it, shows the Law’s approval of divorce. Jesus insists that this logic is wrong. The Pharisees argue: if, however, Moses, albeit tacitly and implicitly, does not condemn divorce, how can Jesus say that God’s will is that divorce is wrong? The reason Moses wrote the law the Pharisees cite, Jesus says, is the hardheartedness of the people for whom Moses wrote the law. The sense here is that Moses, recognizing that hardhearted Jews will divorce, tries to stop likely injustice following from their hardheartedness; Moses recognizes that at least he can stop injustice, even if he cannot stop the equally great evil of divorce itself. But Jesus knows that his position must be backed up by an argument about divorce itself, and this answer is not to be found in a concrete law of Moses. Yet, holding on to ’Moses’ as a basis for decision-making, as do the Pharisees, Jesus looks to Moses, specifically to the first of the five books of Moses: Genesis. Jesus’ understanding of God’s so making man and woman’s union that even intimate family is left behind and the two become one flesh – this understanding of God’s intention means that the two are one flesh forever. Any Jew who marries into this ’becoming one flesh’ has entered into a union the nature of which is determined by God, not by human beings. Thus, when two Jews decide to become one flesh, they take on the union as God intends it. Only God, then, gives understanding of this union, and men only follow what God has defined; no human being can change that definition and allow divorce. In the house (again, the place of revelation), Jesus makes clear the impact of divorce: the man commits adultery against the wife, and she, if she remarries another after divorce, commits adultery. In either case, the woman is made ’unclean’, unworthy to be in the presence of God. (We should note that in Jesus’ Israel, a woman could not divorce a man; so Jesus would have had no reason to speak about a divorce initiated by a woman. Mark, writing to a community under Roman Law [which allowed a woman to divorce a man], justly extends Jesus’ words to include divorce caused by the woman. Applying Jesus’ teachings to non-Jewish societies occurs often in the NT. Jesus’ teaching can be a disciple’s cross. John Kilgallen, S.J.

Comments

Anonymous | 11/25/2008 - 6:29pm
In the Gospel of the transfiguration; I wonder if the symbolism is linked to the greatest commandments. Moses is said to represent the law and Elijah is said to represent the prophets. All the law and the prophets hang on the greatest commandments. Does Jesus the central figure of the transfiguration represent the greatest commandments? Jesus spoke about two commandments being greatest for man, but can these same commandments have a greatest meaning for God also? God the Father loves all that he is with all of his heart, soul, mind and strength. God the Father loves each and every one of us as he loves himself? In the spirit of searching for God. Eric Hyom