Day 34 – Divorce, Remarriage and Celibacy

Today’s reading: Matthew 19:1-15

Today we read the passages reflecting Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage.  Understanding this teaching has caused must angst over the years and has been in the news recently as Pope Francis seeks to refine the church’s teaching on divorce and remarriage.

I do not feel confident enough to wide in all the way on this complicated issue.  However, there are some basic things that can be said.  First, it is absolutely clear that divorce is not meant to be.  Jesus clearly says that it was not that way in the beginning and that is was allowed only because of the “hardness of our hearts” – i.e., generally human failings.  Thus, we should wade very carefully into the conversation about divorce.  The church allows divorce, particularly in cases of abuse, but people always desire the exception to consume the rule.  Often generally “unhappiness” becomes a justification for divorce.  This should be avoided in all but the most serious cases and only after heroic efforts are made to rebuild the relationship.

Second, Jesus’ particular focus is on remarriage.  I read this as a warning from Jesus.  The desire for earthly happiness and earthly love and affection is natural and powerful.  This good desire may influence our evaluation of our marriage situation.  Jesus’s apparent prohibition against remarriage after divorce should be a powerful sign to us that leaving a marriage with the intention, explicit or implicit, of finding earthly happiness in a new marriage is an improper motivation for divorce.

Lastly, the disciples then say that it seems better not to get married at all.  Jesus basically agrees saying that some are born eunuchs, some made eunuchs and some become eunuchs, “have made themselves so for the sake of the kingdom of heaven…”.  This is one of the traditional biblical passages used to justify priestly celibacy.

Tomorrow: Matthew 19: 16-30

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