“I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the LORD, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I forgive you all that you have done, says the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 16:62-63)
Our first reading today from the book of Ezekiel chapter 16 is a graphic description of mankind in its relationship with God. Even though it was addressed to Jerusalem as a city, this passage perfectly mirrors our situation even as Christians. We have been very unfaithful to God; our religiosity is shallow and we have often gone after other gods. That notwithstanding, the passage concludes with a line of God’s assurance of forgiveness.
Our Gospel passage contains what I may call the hardest teaching of Jesus Christ and coincidentally it comes just after Jesus taught another very hard topic; forgiveness. Jesus explained that in God’s mind, there is no room for divorce. Moses’ law was just a mere reflection of the people’s hardness of heart. From the beginning, God created marriage to last as long as the couple is alive.
The only condition Jesus gives for divorce is “unchastity” and when we examine the original Greek word (which translates here as unchastity), we discover that Jesus is referring to “illegal marriage” not “adultery.” Jesus is saying that the only way a couple can be divorced is if the marriage never took place in the first place.
In a culture where women were treated as property and a man could afford to “use and dump” at will, Jesus’ teaching on marriage sought first to restore the dignity of women as well as press the reset button as far as marriage is concerned. It is not surprising that to this day, mankind is struggling to accept Jesus’ teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. Until we all learn to love rather than use people, until we learn self-discipline and rid ourselves of sexual immorality, we would continue to see Jesus’ teaching as too difficult to accept.
Feeling that marriage is hard, Jesus’ disciples asked him: “if that is the case, then isn’t it better not to marry at all?” Jesus responded, “not everyone can accept this teaching but only those to whom it is given” in other words, celibacy is not for everybody. It is a gift; a special calling. Celibacy is not and can never be an escape route from the commitment of marriage. One who is not called to celibacy, one who has not been given the grace to live this life ends up living scandalously and in utter frustration.
So if celibacy is not a better option to marriage, how then are we to remain committed and happy in marriage for the rest of our lives? The answer I think is forgiveness; doing what Jesus told Peter “not seven times but seventy times seven times” – endlessly. Nevertheless, when there is physical (verbal or emotional) violence and a spouse become a threat to the other person’s life, separation is recommended that healing may take place.
Today, we remember St. Maximilian Kolbe. Born on January 8, 1894, in the Kingdom of Poland, he was a Polish Franciscan friar and a martyr in the German death Camp of Auschwitz during World War II. Never abandoning his priesthood, Kolbe was the victim to severe violence and harassment. Toward the end of his second month in Auschwitz, men were chosen to face death by starvation to warn against escapes. Kolbe was not chosen but he volunteered to take the place of a man with a family.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, teach me to forgive others just as you forgive me. Amen
Bible Study: Ezekiel 16:1-63, Isaiah 12:2-6, Matthew 19:3-12).