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Jesus Was Against Machismo, Not Divorce

By       Message Mike Rivage-Seul       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   18 comments

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Tammy Wynette - .D-I-V-O-R-C-E. Tammy Wynette performs .D-I-V-O-R-C-E. live in 1973 in Cypress Park, FL.
(Image by YouTube, Channel: TammyWynettemusic)
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Today's readings: Gn. 2:18-24; Ps. 128:1-6; Heb. 2:9-11; Mk 10:2-16

I shared Tammy Wynette's award-winning song "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" because it captures the pain that more than half of married people go through when they decide to divorce. Elsewhere, Tammy introduced the song by saying, "I want to sing you a song that I didn't write, but I should have." Those words as well as the way she sings capture the very sad experience of divorce for couples who all started out so full of love and hope. As all of us know, divorce is often characterized by regret and feelings of failure especially relative to the children involved.

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The irony is that many divorced people will come to church this morning and find their pain compounded by today's readings and no doubt by sermons they will hear. Pastors will be inspired to make divorced members of their congregations feel even more guilty when they preach on the words attributed to Jesus: "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."

However, in reality, those words do not reveal Jesus' actual teaching about divorce. Instead, the whole episode described in today's Gospel selection tells us that what Jesus stands against is machismo not divorce as such. Moreover, relative to failed marriages, he implicitly invites us to follow his compassionate example in putting the welfare of people -- in his day women specifically -- ahead of abstract principles or laws. Doing so will make us more understanding and supportive of couples who decide to divorce in the best interests of all.

Let me explain.

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To begin with, it would have been very unlikely that Jesus actually said "let no one" or (as our translation went this morning) "let no human being" put asunder what God has joined together. That's because in Jesus' Palestine, only men had the right to initiate a divorce. So in prohibiting divorce, Jesus was addressing men. The "no one" or "no human being" attribution comes from Mark who wanted Jesus' pronouncement on divorce to address situations outside of Palestine more than 40 years after Jesus' death. By the time Mark wrote his Gospel, the church had spread well beyond Palestine to Rome and the Hellenistic world. In some of those communities, women could initiate divorce proceedings as well as men.

Similarly, Jesus probably did not say, "and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." Such a statement would have been incomprehensible to Jesus' immediate audience. Once again, in Palestine no woman could divorce her husband. Divorce was strictly a male right. Women could only be divorced; they couldn't divorce their husbands.

So what did Jesus say? He probably said (as today's first reading from Genesis puts it) "What God has joined together let no man (my italics) put asunder. " His was a statement against the anti-woman, male-centered practice of divorce that characterized the Judaism of his time.

And what was that practice?

In a word, it was highly patriarchal. Until they entered puberty, female children were "owned" by their father. From then on the father's ownership could be transferred to another male generally chosen by the father as the daughter's husband. The marriage ceremony made the ownership-transfer legal. After marriage, the husband was bound to support his wife. For her part however the wife's obedience to her husband became her religious duty.

Meanwhile, even after marriage, the husband could retain as many lovers as he wanted provided he also able to support them. Additionally the husband enjoyed the unilateral right to demand divorce not only for adultery (as some rabbis held), but also according to the majority of rabbinical scholars for reasons that included burning his food, or spending too much time talking with neighbors. Even after divorce, a man's former wife needed his permission to remarry. As a result of all this, divorced women were often left totally abandoned. Their only way out was to become once again dependent on another man.

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In their book Another God Is Possible, Maria and Ignacio Lopes Vigil put it this way: "Jesus' saying, 'What God has joined together, let no man put asunder' is not the expression of an abstract principle about the indissolubility of marriage. Instead, Jesus' words were directed against the highly patriarchal marriage practices of his time. 'Men,' he said, should not divide what God has joined together. This meant that the family should not be at the mercy of the whimsies of its male head, nor should the woman be left defenseless before her husband's inflexibility. Jesus cut straight through the tangle of legal interpretations that existed in Israel about divorce, all of which favored the man, and returned to the origins: he reminded his listeners that in the beginning God made man and woman in his own image, equal in dignity, rights, and opportunities. Jesus was not pronouncing against divorce, but against machismo."

Here it should be noted that Mark's alteration of Jesus' words is far less radical than what Jesus said. Mark makes the point of the Master's utterance divorce rather than machismo. Ironically, in doing so and by treating women the same as men, Mark's words also offer a scriptural basis for legalists who place the "bond of marriage" ahead of the happiness (and even safety) of those who find themselves in relationships which have become destructive to partners and to children.

Traditionally that emphasis on the inviolability of the marriage bond has represented the position of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. It is very unlikely that the historical Jesus with his extremely liberal attitude towards law and his concern for women would have endorsed it.

Instead however, it never was Jesus position that any law should take precedence over the welfare of people. In fact, his refusal to endorse that precedence -- his breaking of religious laws (even the Sabbath law) in favor of human welfare -- was the main reason for his excommunication by the religious leaders of his own day. In other words, Jesus was the one who kept God's law by breaking human law.

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Mike Rivage-Seul is a liberation theologian and former Roman Catholic priest. Retired in 2014, he taught at Berea College in Kentucky for 40 years where he directed Berea's Peace and Social Justice Studies Program.Mike blogs (more...)
 

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6 people are discussing this page, with 18 comments  Post Comment


Mike Rivage-Seul

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After the anti-woman spectacle of last week's Kavanaugh hearings, we all need a reminder that Jesus took the side of women against their male oppressors.

Submitted on Sunday, Oct 7, 2018 at 6:19:44 PM

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Robert Gormley

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Reply to Mike Rivage-Seul:   New Content

What male oppressors?

The 12 apostles were male, if anything he seemed to favor men, as apostles

anyway. I don't think Jesus really plays favorites between male ane female.

Submitted on Tuesday, Oct 9, 2018 at 11:43:57 PM

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Cas

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Mary Magdalene was one of his apostles, but was scrubbed out in AD 400 because she was a woman.

She traveled with him, was mourning at the crucifixion and was the first to witness his resurrection. She stood by him, through all of his sufferings, far more than did any of his male disciples.

So no, they weren't all male.

Submitted on Wednesday, Oct 10, 2018 at 1:41:37 AM

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Robert, at least the way I read the Gospels and the Christ-event itself, God's People are the poor and oppressed. According to our faith, when God chose to manifest in flesh, he became a poor laborer, a son of an unwed teenage mother, a "friend of prostitutes and sinners," a victim of torture and of capital punishment. All of that expresses a preference on the part of God. After all, God chose not to manifest as a rich, privileged person, but quite the opposite. In fact, Jesus had strong words of condemnation for the rich. Moreover, when he arose from the dead, Jesus manifested himself first of all to women -- another choice. Bottom line: God is on the side of the oppressed emphatically not on that of the oppressors.

Submitted on Thursday, Oct 11, 2018 at 1:00:53 AM

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I notice how you tend to twist scripture to fit your agenda.

Jesus spoke plainly about divorce and yet you seem to find some other meaning to it. How are you going to explain this away on judgement day?

Jesus allowed marriage as a "concession" because of the

prevalence of fornication (his own words). Jesus' teachings on divorce are clear yet you say something else.

Submitted on Sunday, Oct 7, 2018 at 9:14:06 PM

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Robert, my fellow believer, I appreciate your concern. What I was trying to show is that the evangelists themselves right from the beginning (Mark's is the earliest Gospel narrative) changed Jesus' words to suit their audiences. For instance, Jesus could never have said that a woman who divorces her husband commits adultery, since women in his culture did not have a legal right to divorce. It was a male privilege. If you can stand it, please re-read my argument in my little homily. -- Also, in today's reading, that "concession" you mention was not about marriage, but about divorce.

Submitted on Sunday, Oct 7, 2018 at 9:31:28 PM

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It takes a kind, gentle, yet courageous spirit to respond so respectfully to disrespect.

~~~~~~

Since the Creator made kangaroos and hairless cats, I like to think It enjoys a bit of humor, after all. Therefore, on my judgement day, I will respectfully ask for a jury of my peers.

Submitted on Monday, Oct 8, 2018 at 5:57:06 PM

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Reply to Janet Supriano:   New Content

I'm assuming you're talking about my disrespect Janet.

Is it disrespectful to correct someone who is saying something opposite than

what the Scriptures say, I think not.

Read your Bible first, then you can intelligently comment about the

subject at hand.

Submitted on Tuesday, Oct 9, 2018 at 11:40:57 PM

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Reply to Robert Gormley:   New Content

Peace be to you, Robert.

Submitted on Friday, Oct 12, 2018 at 1:17:27 AM

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I always appreciate everything you say. To show you I mean what I say, I appreciate you bringing kangaroos and hairless cats into the conversation. As you said, the Creator made both and I think that makes it pertinent to the conversation. To be honest let me say, my opinion might be a bit biased since you brought a smile to my face. Pretty sure it was the kangaroos and hairless cats that made me smile...

:)

Submitted on Thursday, Oct 11, 2018 at 11:14:43 PM

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:) back to you, David!

Submitted on Friday, Oct 12, 2018 at 1:18:44 AM

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Thank you. Do you accept collect calls? :)

Submitted on Friday, Oct 12, 2018 at 7:06:02 AM

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Apparently, I do, you trickster! I'm also VERY slow on the uptake. hahaha! :)

Submitted on Friday, Oct 12, 2018 at 7:59:24 PM

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:) :)

Submitted on Friday, Oct 12, 2018 at 8:39:12 PM

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I don't agree, you seem to pull conclusions out of the air.

Divorce was a concession in the old testament, but Jesus outlawed it in

the New testament (save for adultery).

Submitted on Tuesday, Oct 9, 2018 at 11:38:14 PM

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I can't stand it. The apostles would never change Jesus' words to suit

their audiences. The audience needs to rise up to the words of Jesus.

And this is exactly what YOU are doing: Looking to please men and women,

rather than speak the word of God.

Submitted on Tuesday, Oct 9, 2018 at 11:46:48 PM

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If Protestant Jews were allowed to seek asylum and employment in the United States of America, Jesus would prefer to be American.

Jesus would play golf on the Sabbath, if he obeyed the popes who are his Proxy. Greens fees for eighteen holes of Holy-Hole-in-One are dear.

We have nothing to fear but fake billionaires with smallish hands.

Submitted on Monday, Oct 8, 2018 at 4:15:41 PM

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Hmm.

Submitted on Monday, Oct 8, 2018 at 6:18:17 PM

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