Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct. 4
Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 128:1-2,3,4-5,6; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16
LESLIE VAN HOUTEN grew up in a clean-cut, loving family in a comfortable middle-class home in a Southern California suburb. Her father and stay-at-home mom devoted themselves to their four children.
Sadly, when Leslie was 13, the Van Houtens divorced. Over the next three years, Leslie experienced LSD, sex, pregnancy, and abortion. At the age of 19, having come under the influence of father-figure Charles Manson, Leslie participated in the grisly murder of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.
For the past 40 years, Leslie’s home has been a California prison cell.
At the time, it was widely reported that most of Manson’s 20-plus female disciples hailed from affluent backgrounds. No one at the time reported that virtually all of Manson’s girls came from broken homes.
The all-too-frequent connection between divorce and deviancy makes today’s Gospel reading all the more intriguing. Jesus’ insistence on the permanence of marriage is immediately followed by his blessing of children. “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them!” Jesus proclaimed (Mark 10:14 RSV).
WHETHER AND under what conditions a Jewish husband might divorce his wife was a raging theological question in Jesus’ day. Rabbi Shammai permitted divorce in the case of adultery; Rabbi Hillel did so for the slightest annoyance.
Mark reports that the Pharisees were attempting to entrap Jesus when they raised the question, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” Scholars tell us that Jesus was at that time in Perea, which was under Herod Antipas’ jurisdiction. It was this same Herod who had murdered John the Baptist after John informed him that his marriage to “his brother Philip’s wife” was unlawful.
If there ever was a time for Jesus to play it safe, this was it. The fact that he waded right into the matter shows us how critically important Jesus considered this question to be.
“What did Moses command you?” Jesus inquired. The Pharisees, rightly summarizing Deuteronomy 24:1-4, responded, “Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and to dismiss his wife.” “Ah, yes,” Jesus continued, “but he did so because of ‘the hardness of your hearts.'”
IN MOSES’ day, a divorced woman received no alimony or child support. She had the most minimal opportunities for employment and only a slight chance of remarrying. Moses’ law was designed to protect the dignity of the spurned wife against the hard-hearted selfishness of her husband. Both Shammai and Hillel had misread Moses when they concluded that he sanctioned divorce.
Jesus, quoting today’s first reading from Genesis 2, observed that God’s original intent was for a man and a woman to be irrevocably united in marriage. Jesus’ deduction, “So they are no longer two but one flesh” led to his conclusive answer to the Pharisee’s question: “No human being should separate what God has joined together.” Could there be a clearer statement concerning the indissolubility of marriage?
In 1969, four weeks after the Manson killings, California adopted the country’s most progressive no-fault divorce law. The following year, the state granted a record 112,942 divorces — 38 percent more than during the previous year. (In 1960, there had been only 105,352 marriages in California!)
By 1969, Hollywood had given up on traditional marriage. Of the top 20 stars raised by Hollywood parents, only four grew up in two-parent homes. Should we be surprised that Hollywood continues to create films saturated with sexual deviancy and violence, films which consistently undermine the traditional understanding of marriage and family?
AS POPE John Paul II declared, “It is a fundamental duty of the church to reaffirm strongly . . . the doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage. To all those who, in our times, consider it too difficult, or indeed impossible, to be bound to one person for the whole of life, and to those caught up in a culture that rejects the indissolubility of marriage and openly mocks the commitment of spouses to fidelity, it is necessary to reconfirm the good news . . . that has in Christ its foundation and strength” (“Familiaris Consortio,” 20).
Jesus’ decisive “No!” to divorce provides the necessary safeguard against human selfishness. Echoing Jesus’ prohibition, the Catholic Church offers her decisive “Yes!” to the sanctity of marriage.
Father Douglas Grandon is parochial vicar of Sacred Heart Parish in Moline.