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Gospel for Sunday, October 3: Mark 10: 2-16

XXVII Sunday B

2And some Pharisees approached, to test him, and asked him: “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?”. 3But he answered them: “What did Moses command you?” 4They said: “Moses allowed a bill of divorcement to be written and sent away.” 5Jesus said to them: “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote this rule for you. 6But at the beginning of creation God created them male and female; 7for this reason man will leave his father and mother and the two will become one flesh. 8So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9Therefore let no man separate what God has joined together.” 10Returning home, the disciples questioned him again on this subject. And he said: 11“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12if a woman repudiates her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” 13They presented children to him so that he could caress them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14When Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them: “Let the children come to me and do not prevent them, because the kingdom of God belongs to those who are like them. 15Truly I say to you: Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” 16And taking them in his arms and placing his hands on them he blessed them.

Mark 10: 2-16

Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Misericordie, I am Carlo Miglietta, doctor, biblical scholar, layman, husband, father and grandfather (www.buonabibbiaatutti.it).

Also today I share with you a short meditation thought on the Gospel, with special reference to the theme of mercy.

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Deuteronomy had granted the husband the possibility of divorce if he found “something unseemly” in his wife, eruat dabar (Dt 24.1). But on the interpretation of the eruat dabar, two schools had been created in the time of Jesus: that of Rabbi Shammai, who allowed divorce only in the case of adultery, and that of Rabbi Hillel, according to which any reason was sufficient to repudiate the wife: it was enough that the wife had allowed a dish to burn, or that she had lost her youthful beauty, or that the husband had found a more attractive companion.

The Pharisees approached Jesus to see which of the two theological currents he aligned with. For them it was well established that Jesus admitted divorce, as this was explicitly foreseen by the Law; the problem, according to them, was whether he granted it only in cases of adultery like Rabbi Shammai or “for any reason” (Mt 19.3), like Rabbi Hillel.

Jesus surprises everyone by stating that divorce was granted only due to sclerocardia, the “hardness of the heart” (Mk 10.5) of Israel, a concept equivalent to the Hebrew orlat lebab, man’s closure to God’s plan. Jesus he therefore states that God’s plan for marriage is not to be found in Deuteronomy, but precisely in the book of Genesis, whose Hebrew name is Bereshit, “In the beginning”: the Jews did not call the books of Scripture with the names that we gave them , but with the first words of the book itself, and Genesis in fact begins with: “In the beginning God created…” (Gen 1.1). “But «in the beginning» (editor’s note: that is, in the book of Genesis)… God created them male and female: for this reason man will leave his father and his mother and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, let no man separate what God has joined together (editor’s note: synèuzeuxen: “yoked”, symbolic language which refers to the yoke of two)” (Mk 10, 6-9). Note how Jesus quotes from Gen 2:24 not the Hebrew text (“and they…”), but the Greek one from the LXX (“the two…”), which is already a strong interpretation in a monogamous sense, even proposing, as we have seen, a mathematical illogical: “two equals one”! It is God himself who makes the two a unity, inseparable and indissoluble: anyone who attacks marital unity rejects God’s creational plan.

Unlike the text of the Gospel of Mark and that of Luke, the parallel passage of Matthew presents, together with the refusal of divorce, the famous incident that has caused so much discussion: “Whoever divorces his wife, except in case of pornography, and if he marries another he commits adultery (moichàtai)” (Mt 19:9). Porneìa is certainly not concubinage, as the Bible of the Italian Episcopal Conference of 1971 translated, because it is not clear why the evangelist should provide a specific exception for an obvious thing.

Some, such as the Orthodox or Reformed churches, have seen adultery in this pornography, and find here permission to divorce in a similar case. But in this sense we would have expected another term, moicheìa, whose root returns in the verb used at the end of the verse (moichàtai, “commits adultery”). Furthermore, the whole passage would no longer make sense, as Jesus would only be siding with the school of Rabbi Shammai, who granted divorce only in the case of adultery, and we would no longer understand either his opposition to the Mosaic law or the amazement expressed in response from the disciples: “If this is the condition of a man compared to a woman, it is not worth marrying” (Mt 19:10).

The most reliable exegesis today points out to us that the passage about porneìa appears only in the Gospel of Matthew, who writes for the converted Jews of the communities of Palestine and Syria: they continued to stick to the Jewish customs which prohibited the zenut, or ” prostitution” according to rabbinic writings, that is, those unions considered incestuous because they are marked by a degree of kinship prohibited in the book of Leviticus (Lev 18.6-18), such as marriage with a stepmother or half-sister, unions often instead permitted by legislation Roman. Hence the conclusion of the Council of Jerusalem, which established for everyone the need to also abstain “from porneìa” (Acts 15,20.29), that is, from those unions which, although considered valid in Roman law, were to be considered null, because they were incestuous, according to Jewish legislation: in this case the Christian not only could dissolve the union but, as it was not a valid marriage, he had the duty to get rid of it. It will be the same porneìa against which Paul will attack by condemning “such a man living with his father’s wife to the mercy of Satan” (1 Cor 5,1-5). Accepting this interpretation, the Bible of the Italian Episcopal Conference of 2008 translates porneìa as “illegitimate union”.

In any case, “the interpolated clause cannot be interpreted as an exception to the absolute indissolubility of marriage” (E. Schillebeeckx). Further proof of this is Paul’s clear statement, which refers not to his own opinion, as in other cases (marriage between believer and non-believer, celibacy…), but to a precise command of the Lord in this regard: “To the married then I command, not I, but the Lord: the wife must not separate from her husband and if she separates, she must remain unmarried or be reconciled with her husband and the husband must not divorce his wife” (1 Cor 7,10-11). In this sense it will be the unanimous tradition of the entire ancient Church.

Happy Mercy to all!

Anyone who would like to read a more complete exegesis of the text, or some insights, please ask me at migliettacarlo@gmail.com.

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