Friday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel shows how Jesus restored marriage to the exalted state that God intended for it in the beginning. God “made them male and female” so that “the two shall become one flesh.” A man loves his own flesh and cannot be parted from it; just so, a man loves his wife and cannot be parted from her. Jesus tells his hearers that the Mosaic practice of granting a bill of divorce was a concession to men’s hardness of heart, of their refusal to love their wives as they ought. Yet in the new dispensation, a man who divorces his wife and marries another is guilty of adultery.
Jesus’ disciples are understandably taken aback at the seeming harshness of his teaching. If his words are true, they think, then it is better not to marry. Jesus’ reply is telling. He does not retract or soften his teaching, nor does he agree that it is better not to marry. Instead, he opens up yet another possibility: the celibacy that he himself has embraced. It is not for everyone, but only for those to whom it has been given as a gift. Here again Jesus uses strong language that is lost in the New American Bible translation. He does not speak of people “incapable of marriage,” but of eunuchs who have been castrated for the Kingdom of Heaven. His point, I think, is that celibacy is even more demanding than marriage, and his disciples should not think of celibacy as an escape from the commandment to love.
Marriage and celibacy are two complementary, not opposed, states of Christian life. They share the same basic logic: losing oneself in order to love God and others.