Jesus christ approves of divorce
RACHEL Emisoras Latinas again transmitting from Nazareth, covering the second coming of Jesus Christ to earth. His frank opinions are stirring up keen interest on the part of our audience. Every day new questions are reaching us, and they’re for you to answer, Jesus. Are you ready?
JESUS Go ahead, Rachel. Whatever questions you want to ask, just ask them.
RACHEL Let’s take this one. Several listeners want to know if your apostles were married or not.
JESUS As far as I recall, all of them were married. They all had wives and children. I’m not sure if any of them got married more than once. Men used to marry quite young in those days, and if they were widowed they’d marry again.
RACHEL And if they got divorced? No, clearly, they couldn’t get divorced!
JESUS Clearly they could. In my time religious law allowed divorce.
RACHEL So it was you who changed that law and prohibited divorce? Wasn’t it you who established marriage as something indissoluble and life-long? You stated “until death do them part.”
JESUS What’s that you say I said?
RACHEL “What God has joined together, let no one put asunder.”
JESUS No, no, you’re mistaken. What I said was “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” I was not against divorce; I was against that thing you were talking about the other day, ma.., mach …
JESUS Yes, that. In my time men were … they were an empire. They repudiated their wives for any reason at all. If the wife burned the lentils, if she went out of the house without permission, if she spoke with a neighbor, the husband would divorce her. And any woman who was repudiated and left on her own suffered tremendously. She could hardly earn a living, people avoided her. I wasn’t against divorce – I was against machismo!
RACHEL So you would agree that if a couple has conflicts – serious conflicts, of course – they can get a divorce?
JESUS Yes, but the divorce can’t be decided just by the whim of the husband.
RACHEL Nor by that of the wife…
JESUS Of course not. Between the two of them they should discuss things, and between the two of them they should decide the matter. If they see that they can’t continue together, that they are no longer happy, then it’s better that they separate.
RACHEL And after the divorce, would you allow them to marry again?
JESUS Why not? Life goes on. God is life.
RACHEL And the children? Isn’t it terrible when children are left without a father or without a mother because they decide to get a divorce?
JESUS Yes, it’s terrible, but I believe it would be worse if they were witnessing hate-filled arguments and conflicts in the home, don’t you think?
RACHEL And … and a woman who was being beaten and maltreated, what should she do? Turn the other cheek? Pray that her husband changes? Just put up with it to save the marriage?
JESUS No, she should save herself. That woman should leave, get out of there, and never turn back.
RACHEL Let me tell you, Jesus Christ, I feel a great sense of relief. I’ll tell you something very personal I had a husband, but he was unbearable, abusive. I had to get away from him. I believe that many of the women now listening to us will also feel relieved.
JESUS And they will understand what I’m saying. You can’t imagine how hard it was for James and John and Andrew to understand all this. And Peter was the worst of all. His nickname was well chosen Rock! He was stubborn, fixed on his own ideas, a great male chauvinist.
RACHEL Could that be the reason why the Pope of Rome, who claims to be the heir of Peter’s chair, is so harsh and close-minded with women? What do you think, friends of Emisoras Latinas, especially you women who are tuned in? Our telephone lines are open. We can also be found at www.emisoraslatinas.net. I am Rachel Perez, reporting from Nazareth.
ANNOUNCER Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.
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A very unequal marriage
The marriage laws and customs in Palestine in Jesus’ time were very inequitable; they bore the male chauvinist stamp of a supremely patriarchal society. Until the age of twelve, girls were under the dominion of their fathers. From that age on they could married off, and generally the father determined with whom. Matrimony consisted in the formal transfer of the young woman from the father’s power to the husband’s. Once married, a woman had the right to be supported by her husband, but the rights of the husband were much greater. The wife was obliged to carry out all the domestic labors and to obey her husband with a submission that was tantamount to religious duty.
Furthermore, the husband enjoyed two rights which completely skewed the relationship, so that conjugal equality was really non-existent: he enjoyed the right to have as many lovers as he wished, if he could maintain them, and also the right to demand a divorce, which depended exclusively on his will.
Grounds for divorce in Jesus’ time
Divorce laws existed in Israel, and divorce was practiced there. The Law of Moses allowed men to dismiss their wives (Deuteronomy 24,1). However, since the separation was decided unilaterally by the husband, the situation in which women found themselves was quite unjust.
In Jesus’ time there was debate about the legal justification of divorce: what grounds should there be for repudiating one’s wife? There were two schools of thought about how to interpret the law. Some scholars held that only very serious reasons – principally adultery – could justify a man’s divorcing his wife. Others claimed that trivial reasons sufficed: the woman had burned the food, or she was spending too much time in the street talking with the neighbors. The latter school influenced actual practice much more than the former. To make matters worse, since it was the husband who decided on the divorce, the woman needed the authorization of her ex-husband before she could remarry. The rejected woman often found herself in a state of total abandonment. She returned to society with her reputation debased and with scant possibility of surviving unless she became dependent on another man.
Not against divorce, but against machismo
The oft-quoted saying of Jesus, What God has joined together, let no one put asunder (Matthew 19,3-12), does not spell out an abstract principle about the indissolubility of marriage. “No one” should be understood as “no man”. Jesus was very concretely condemning the customary, arbitrary male dominance of his time: “man” 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 intransigence. 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.
Indissoluble, … but still annullable
Interpreting this saying of Jesus in Matthew as a prohibition and condemnation of all divorce, the Catholic Church considers every marriage celebrated according to the Catholic rite to be “indissoluble”. The Church’s canon law code establishes that anyone who has been married by the Church and then divorced by civil law cannot remarry in a Catholic ceremony. Those who do remarry are considered to be living in sin and cannot receive communion at mass. In 2002 Pope John II insisted on this doctrine: Those who consider indissolubility to be a simple ideal, and not a natural juridical norm, render meaningless the unequivocal declaration of Jesus Christ, who absolutely rejected divorce, because “it was not like that in the beginning.”
For the Vatican, nevertheless, indissoluble marriages are still annullable. The sentences of annulment are authorized by the Tribunal of the Rota in Rome, one of the oldest courts in the world; it is called the “Rota” (“round”) because of the circular hall where it first began to function in the 14th century.
Annulment signifies that the marriage “never existed” juridically. Those who request an annulment put forward a variety of reasons: the marriage took place under duress, that is, due to force, fear, or “reverential deference to the parents”; the husband is impotent and the marriage “was never consummated”; one of the spouses is homosexual; the spouses belong to different religions; the wedding was performed without witnesses or before an unauthorized priest; the spouses’ consent was insufficiently demonstrated; one of the spouses did not reveal that he or she did not want children; a wife who was not a virgin did not reveal that to a husband who would have married her only if she were, etc., etc. Recently the grounds of annulment have included the in-laws: the tribunal annuls marriages where the excessive dependence of one of the spouses on his or her mother is demonstrated. In reality, almost any reason suffices to obtain the annulment of a marriage.
The Holy See states that 85% of the “Rota cases” are free of charge, so long as the “indigence” of the involved parties can be verified. However, it is hard to believe that the case of an indigent person could ever reach that high tribunal. It is calculated that the average cost of an annulment is 2,500 euros for the lawyer, 260 euros for the prosecutor, plus other costs. The procedures last about two years. The principal objective of those seeking to annul a marriage is to be able to remarry in a Catholic ceremony, which is always an ostentatious and socially impressive affair. In the year 2006 the Roman Rota issued 172 definitive sentences regarding requests for marriage annulments: 96 allowed for annulment, and 76 denied it. As of February 2007 there were 1,679 cases awaiting sentences from this tribunal.