Read Ezekiel 16:1-15,60,63, Isaiah 12, Matthew 19:3-12

“So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Matthew 19:6)

Even though the Prophet Ezekiel in today’s first reading was speaking to the city of Jerusalem at that time, this passage mirrors today’s Christians. We have been very unfaithful to God; our worship is shallow and we run after idols. That notwithstanding, the passage concludes with the assurance of God’s mercy: “I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I forgive you all that you have done, says the Lord GOD.” (Ezekiel 16:62-63).

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus is asked for his opinion on divorce. At this point, the disciples were still trying to fully grasp the weight of his teaching on the topic of forgiveness – “not seven, but seventy times seven times.” Jesus explained that in God’s mind, there is no room for divorce. From the beginning, God created marriage to last as long as the couple is alive.

Reading this passage in the English language, it is easy to assume that Jesus gave an exception for divorce: “except for unchastity” However the Greek word used here refers to “illegal marriage” not “adultery.” Jesus is saying that the only way a couple can be divorced is if the marriage never took place in the first place.

In a culture where women were treated as property and a man could afford to “use and dump” at will, Jesus’ teaching on marriage sought first to restore the dignity of women as well as press the reset button as far as marriage is concerned. It is not surprising that to this day, mankind is struggling to accept Jesus’ teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.

Jesus’ disciples asked him: “if that is the case, then isn’t it better not to marry at all?” Jesus responded, “not everyone can accept this teaching but only those to whom it is given.” Celibacy is not a mere ecclesiastical rule, it is a gift; a special calling. One who is not given this special gift will have a hard time attempting to live out the call. The celibate life is not an escape route from the challenges of marital commitment. It is just as difficult or perhaps more difficult than marriage.

Since there are no perfect humans, and Jesus is saying that divorce is not an option, how are couples to find joy in marriage? The answer is forgiveness. Forgive quickly.  St. Paul would say: “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26-27). If couples learn to forgive each other seventy times seven times, marriages would be blissful. Forgiveness sustains marriage.

Now you may wonder; what if the life of the spouse is at risk? In such cases of violence, the church recommends separation to save life and facilitate a process of reconciliation. Separated couples are not divorced. As long as they are alive, the marriage bond still holds and they are not permitted to be unfaithful to each other or remarry. The good news is that in many cases, separation has helped couples to re-ignite their love for each other.

Let us pray: Almighty ever-living God, teach me to forgive others just as you forgive me. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you. (Friday of week 19 in Ordinary Time. Bible Study: Ezekiel 16:1-15,60,63, Isaiah 12, Matthew 19:3-12).

© Rev. Fr. Evaristus Abu