12 Aug, Friday of Week 19
Josh 24:1ff. A “credo” of God’s great redemptive deeds for Israel, from the age of the Patriarchs to their occupation of the Promised Land.
Matt 19:3ff. Jesus forbids divorce and remarriage, in light of God’s original ideal. Among the signs of the kingdom are marital fidelity and celibacy.
If the Bible calls for heroic love and fidelity on the part of Israel, it first recalls God’s sublime kindness towards his chosen people. Today’s text from Joshua represents a typical covenant ceremony at Shechem, a major sanctuary in central Israel. When people had taken their places before the tabernacle, they recited a well known “credo” – similar to other formulas found in Deut 6:20-25 and 26:3-11. Israel’s origins were not the best; their ancestors “served other gods,” yet God led the patriarchs to the promised land and freely entered a covenant with them. After the exodus from Egypt and the wandering in the wilderness, God brings them over the Jordan to “a land you did not till and cities you did not build,… vineyards and olive groves you did not plant.” Israel’s sacred history was an account of God’s initiative and continual kindness, always exceeding what they deserved.
Instead of seeing the covenant as a treaty between nations, or an overlord and vassal, Ezekiel describes Israel’s relation with Yahweh as a marriage bond. He portrays Israel as a cast-off from birth, unwanted and left to die, a mixed breed of Canaanites, Amorites and Hittites, echoing earlier expressions in the Torah, “a crowd of mixed ancestry” (Exod 12:38) or “riffraff” – in Hebrew ha’sapsup (Num 11:4). The Lord loved and espoused this unwanted female, despised by others. Yet after adorning Israel with precious jewels and transforming her “with the dignity of a queen,” Israel was fascinated by her own beauty and became a harlot for “every passer-by.” But God is committed to Israel, not just for a lifetime but for eternity. God adds, “I pardon you for all you have done.” Love such as this – divine, exceeding all measure, heroic in its fidelity and forgiveness – is overwhelming for us. It grants us joyful satisfaction and absolute security; we always have a home with God. We are even on a basis of equality like husband and wife. No longer are we children before God the Father, nor vassals before the overlord, but the spouse of God.
Jesus restates God’s original design for marriage: “a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two shall become as one.” The disciples recognize the heroic conditions which Jesus lays down for marriage and reply, “It is better not to marry.” Jesus does not back down but explicitly states that such fidelity is possible only for “those to whom it is given to do so.” Fidelity is a divine imperative within the heart of husband and wife, heroic in one sense, yet normal in another way. God’s grace of sacramental marriage, continuously motivating the spouses, transforms this great demand into routine daily affection and dedication. Not only does Jesus go beyond the tradition of Moses to God’s original ideal for marriage, but he also says that, for the sake of the kingdom, some people are called to celibacy. Some are steered into the single life by birth defects or by other causes; others by a free decision. Yet celibacy can be received and lived as a special grace, liberating one for fuller service to God and our fellow human beings, on the example of Jesus himself.
First Reading: Jos 24:1-13
Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors – Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor – lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac; and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in its midst; and afterwards I brought you out. When I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your ancestors with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. When they cried out to the Lord, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did to Egypt. Afterwards you lived in the wilderness a long time. Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan; they fought with you, and I handed them over to you, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you. Then King Balak son of Zippor of Moab, set out to fight against Israel. He sent and invited Balaam son of Beor to curse you, but I would not listen to Balaam; therefore he blessed you; so I rescued you out of his hand. When you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, the citizens of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I handed them over to you. I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove out before you the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. I gave you a land on which you had not laboured, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and oliveyards that you did not plant.
Gospel: Matthew 19:3-12
Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?” He said to them, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.” His disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”