Friday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lately in our King’s teaching about life in the Kingdom, the focus has been on the importance of forgiveness in our relationships with one another. Today He addresses perhaps the most painful and devastating break in a relationship that we can possibly endure: divorce. Marriage calls a man and woman to become one flesh, and not merely in the somewhat euphemistic sense of what occurs in the privacy of the bedroom. The physical intimacy is but a symbol, but a powerful statement in the language of the body that expresses a deeper love and incarnates a deeper word of intimacy in the heart of husband and wife. The unity of bodies is a flesh-echo of the unity of hearts and souls. When divorce divides such unity, it is not a neat paring as though cut apart by a surgeon’s scalpel, or unzipped, or even withdrawn. It is a violent tear, a ripping. How else does one divorce a body from itself? This cannot be the way of things in the Body of Christ.

When the Pharisees bring up the matter of divorce before Jesus, He sternly denounces the very idea of divorce, teaching that “from the beginning it was not so.” While divorce today, sadly, is seen as the easiest solution to marital strife, the first resort rather than the last—and is seen as a resort to begin with—it was never a part of God’s plan, and is not in His Heart as a solution to the incredibly difficult and painful reality that as holy and good as marriage is, sin has not spared it. When He teaches that divorcing “for any cause whatever” is impermissible Jesus is not ignoring the difficult situations in which many married persons find themselves; when He teaches that to divorce and remarry is tantamount to adultery, He is not ignorant of the reality that some marriages are mortally wounded and cannot survive. But what He does teach us is that when we go first to a lawyer for the solution to our difficulty, we reduce marriage to a legal contract as Moses and the Hebrew people did. Rather we must honor marriage as more than a contract: it is a lifelong covenant imitative of that which exists between Christ and His Bride, the Church, and without this perspective we lose sight of the heart of God and how He created us to love in the beginning. He sets high the standard because He has set high His promise of grace and help, even in situations that seem impossible. Would He call us to forgive seven-times-seventy-times if He was not also promising, in the same breath, to help us in doing so? If He could forgive those who slew Him on the Cross, can He not help us forgive even our spouses, who pierce our hearts with any hurt whatsoever?

This is not to condone abuse; Jesus willfully, for our sake, endured abuse but does not command us to do so, for it is by His stripes (Isaiah 53:5) we are healed, not our own, nor is anyone else healed by our consent to be wounded by abuse: those in abusive situations are not obligated to remain in them. But when it comes to the ordinary wounds—frustrations, day-to-day failures, anger, ingratitude, and so forth—do we forgive, or do we bind? Do we allow these little things to accumulate and fill our heart until there is no room for our spouse, or do we admit our faults, do we forgive, do we admit our hurts to one another? Do we bring Jesus into our marriages as the Third Spouse, the very Heart of the Union, or do we insist on somehow keeping this covenant by our own power and wisdom? Do we fight for unity in the Body, or allow for division? Allow the King who called you into marriage to be the one who seals it and keeps it, ‘til Kingdom come.

August 18th, 2017