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Kevin ClarkeJune 11, 2024
Photo from Unsplash.

A Reflection for Friday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

You can find today’s readings here.

“It was also said,
Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.
But I say to you,
whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful)
causes her to commit adultery,
and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Mt 5:31-32)

Many years ago, over a beer at a favorite haunt, an old friend, far from pious, not a believer at all really, expressed his disgust for the “flexibility” with which a mutual male acquaintance assessed his commitment to his wife. His fervor surprised me, then a young bachelor with only a vague appreciation of what such commitments demand. I asked him, teasing, if he never felt a weakening in manly fortitude because of temptation.

Turning his head to look at me sharply, his eyes lighting up, “I made a vow,” he said.

Indeed he had. I was at his wedding. And as far as I know, he has always kept that vow and keeps it still.

It is a powerful thing—a vow. Or it used to be. The secular world has made it a good bit easier to relinquish those vows.

Surely no one wants to return to a time when religious and social institutions alike insisted that people remain in marriages that were proving physically abusive, or psychologically or materially ruinous for either partner. But now that the civil world has made it easier to dislodge ourselves from the commitment, have we come to take those sacramental vows too lightly?

In every marriage, the going will get tough as you juggle the demands of careers and children, property taxes and leaky roofs. Obstacles emerge, and unexpected terrors and storms roll in. Are our vows enough to get us through all those tough times, to reach the other side of both the better and the worse?

Jesus issues some of his hard sayings in today’s Gospel, urging us sinners with our eyes set on the eternal to pluck out one of them if need be in order to get there, or to cut off the hand that threatens to hold us back. One presumes that he did not mean that we should do so literally, but considering the world he inhabited—with its gruesome stonings and crucifixions and hangings and burnings for offenses that would not be considered capital crimes today (well, in most countries)—who can say? Perhaps his first-century audience was not as startled by the idea of eye-plucking and hand-chopping as Bible readers today surely are when challenged to consider the loss of a member a reasonable exchange to preserve the whole.

Part of the hard teaching today harkens to those vows we make at marriage. In Jesus’ world, it was a relatively easy thing to end a marriage, at least for the husband, though it could begin a case for a lifetime of diminishment for his unfortunate wife—or stoning at worst. Jesus sought to probe the depth of the commitments made by the men of his time. He raises a warning to them that true justice and morality require that they go much further than the letter of the law, helping them see the sacrament the way God sees it, urging them to stand—and live—by the vows that they make.

More: Scripture

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