Lectio: Matthew 19:3-12
1) Opening prayer
Almighty and ever-living God,
Your Spirit made us Your children,
confident to call You Father.
Increase Your Spirit within us
and bring us to our promised inheritance.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 19:3-12
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."
Context. Up to chapter 18 Matthew has shown how the discourses of Jesus have marked the different phases of the progressive constitution and formation of the community of disciples around their Master. Now in chapter 19, this small group withdraws from the territory of Galilee and arrives in the territories of Judea. The call of Jesus that involves His disciples advances more until the decisive choice: the acceptance or rejection of the person of Jesus. Such a phase takes place along the road that leads to Jerusalem (chapters 19-20), and finally with the arrival in the city and at the Temple (chapters 21-23). All of the encounters that Jesus experiences in the course of these chapters take place during this journey from Galilee to Jerusalem.
• The encounter with the Pharisees. Passing through Transjordan (19:1) the first encounter is with the Pharisees and the theme of Jesus’ discussion with them becomes a reason for reflection for the group of the disciples. The question of the Pharisees concerns divorce and challenges Jesus. The Pharisees want to accuse Jesus because of His teaching. Matthew considers it “testing Him,” “a way of tempting Him.” The question is really a crucial one: “Is it against the Law for a man to divorce his wife on any pretext whatsoever?” (19:3). The malicious attempt of the Pharisees to interpret the text of Deut 24:1 to place Jesus in difficulty does not escape the attention of the reader: “Suppose a man has taken a wife and consummated the marriage, but she has not pleased him and he has found some impropriety of which to accuse her, he has, therefore, made out a writ of divorce for her and handed it to her and then dismissed her from his house.” This text had given cause, throughout the centuries, for innumerable discussions: to admit divorce for any reason whatsoever; to request a minimum of bad behavior, is a true adultery.
• It is God who unites. Jesus responds to the Pharisees having recourse to Gen 2:24, which presents the question about the primary will of God, the Creator. The love that unites man to woman, comes from God and because of its origin, it unifies and cannot be separated. If Jesus quotes Gn 2:24: “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and becomes attached to his wife and they become one flesh” (19:5), it is because he wants to underline a particular and absolute principle: it is the creating will of God that unites man and woman. When a man and a woman unite together in marriage, it is God who unites them; the term “coniugi” - couple – comes from the verb joined together, to unite, that is to say, that the joining together of the two partners sexually is the effect of the creative word of God. Jesus’ response to the Pharisees reaches its summit: marriage is indissoluble from its original constitution. Jesus continues this time drawing from Mal 2:13-16: to repudiate the wife is to break the covenant with God and according to the prophets this covenant has to be lived, above all, by the spouses in their conjugal union (Hos 1-3; Isa 1: 21-26; Jer 2:2; 3:1,6-12; Ezek 16; 23; Isa 54:6-10; 60-62). Jesus’ response appears as a contradiction to the Law of Moses which grants the possibility of granting a writ of divorce. To justify His response Jesus reminds the Pharisees, “If Moses gave this possibility it is because you were so hardhearted” (v. 8), more concrete, because of your lack of acceptance to the Word of God. The Law of Gen 1:26; 2:24 had never been modified, but Moses was obliged to adapt it to an attitude of indocility. The first marriage was not annulled by adultery. To contemporary man, and particularly to the ecclesial community, the word of Jesus clearly says that there should be no divorces. Nevertheless, we see that there are; in pastoral life divorced people are accepted. The possibility of entering into the Kingdom is always open to them. The reaction of the disciples is immediate: “If that is how things are between husband and wife, it is advisable not to marry” (v. 10). Jesus’ response continues to uphold the indissolubility of matrimony, impossible for the human mentality but possible for God. The eunuch of whom Jesus speaks is also not the one who is unable to generate but the one who, separated from his wife, continues to live in continence. He remains faithful to the first conjugal bond: he is a eunuch as regards all other women.
4) Personal questions
• With regard to marriage, do we know how to accept the teaching of Jesus with simplicity, without adapting it to our own choice to be comfortable?
• The evangelical passage has reminded us that the design of the Father for man and for woman is a wonderful project of love. Are you aware that love has an essential law: it implies the total and full gift of one’s own person to the other?
5) Concluding Prayer
God, create in me a clean heart,
renew within me a resolute spirit,
do not thrust me away from Your presence,
do not take away from me Your spirit of holiness. (Ps 51:10-11)