The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the DayTeaching of an understanding Redeemer on Divorce
With regard to some of the sayings of Christ in the Gospels, or to teaching ascribed to Christ, some scholars question whether the saying or doctrine in question are from Christ himself or from his followers in the early Church. There is no such question with regard to Christ’s teaching on divorce. This presented such difficulty for the early Church and later history as to render it unlikely that anyone would have attributed it to Christ unless he had really said it. St Paul, writing about 57 A.D., presents clear evidence that the ruling is from Christ himself. Writing to questions raised by the Corinthians with regard to marriage and celibacy (abstention from marriage), he clearly distinguishes between his own advice and the Lord’s teaching. When it comes to marriage and divorce he is clear: “To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband) – and that the husband should not divorce his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). Paul clearly knew of the Lord’s teaching on the matter, as recorded in the Gospels.
One may legitimately ask how one can reconcile this teaching of Christ on divorce with the criticism of the Pharisees for binding heavy burdens, hard to bear, and laying them on people’s shoulders (Matthew 23:4), or with Christ’s words that his yoke is sweet and his burden light, and with Christ’s invitation to all who labour and are burdened to come to him (Matthew 11:28-30). The contrast between his teaching on divorce the other points raised calls for reflection. Christ’s clear teaching on divorce and remarriage do not come from a cold perfectionism or lack of understanding on his part. The person of Jesus as made known through the Gospels is that spoken of in today’s reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews. It was the Father’s will that his Son Jesus experience all the trials of humanity. Jesus befriended the marginalized and rejected. He sympathized with human brokenness. But with all this he came with the message that God was recalling humanity to its original state. Human weakness and brokenness did not take from God’s vision of the human race. That state was and is represented by marriage as intended by God. What is said about divorce and God’s original plan holds for much of the New Testament vision,
The church has to be faithful to Christ’s message on the matter, as the apostle Paul was. She must also show the kindness of Christ for the many caught up in the problems that can arise within marriage, and from the break up of marriage. Today’s liturgy is a call for followers of Christ to be faithful to their calling to Christ’s teaching and his loving concern for all the many problems of broken humanity.