Some Pharisees approached him. They wanted to test him and asked, “Is a man allowed to divorce his wife for any reason he wants?”
Jesus replied, “Have you not read, that, in the beginning, the Creator made them male and female? And the Creator said: Therefore, a man shall leave father and mother, and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one body. So, they are no longer two, but one body. Let no one separate what God has joined.”
They asked him, “Then why did Moses command us to write a bill of dismissal in order to divorce?” Jesus replied, “Moses knew the hardness of your hearts, so he allowed you to divorce your wives; but it was not so in the beginning. Therefore, I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, unless it be for immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
The disciples said, “If that is the condition of a married man, it is better not to marry.” Jesus said to them, “Not everybody can accept what you have just said, but only those who have received this gift. There are eunuchs born so, from their mother’s womb. Some have been made that way by others. But there are some who have given up the possibility of marriage, for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who can accept it, accept it.”
In today’s gospel reading, which presents Jesus’ absolute prohibition of divorce, there seems to be an exception to this prohibition, since Jesus specifies that divorce is not possible “unless it be for immorality” (porneia in the Greek text)! Some explanatory remarks might be useful here.
First, Matthew is the only gospel containing this so-called “exceptive clause.” All other parallel texts have no such clause (Mk 10:11-12; Lk 16:18; 1 Cor 7:10-11).
Second, in Matthew’s community, the rabbis had allowed pagan converts who were married to close relatives (marriages prohibited by the Mosaic law—cf. Lev 18: 6-18) to remain in such marriages, considered incestuous in Jewish law. Here Matthew applies the law of Jesus by saying: divorce is prohibited, except in the case of incestuous marriages, which should be dissolved. In other words, the “exceptive clause” constitutes no real exception to the absolute prohibition of divorce when the marriage is lawful.
This absolute stance of Jesus might appear hard to some Christians. But it is the only stance which can save us from social chaos. A look at our divorce-prone society should convince us of that. How many millions of children are deprived of at least one parent because of divorce and grow up in an abnormal setting?
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