by Father Mike Stubbs
When the Supreme Court interprets the Constitution, should it be guided by the original intentions of its framers?
Or, should it rather seek to adapt that 231- year-old text to the needs of our modern times? There are different schools of thought on how interpretation should proceed.
Similarly, at the time of Jesus, there were different schools of thought on how to interpret the Law of Moses.
Jesus’ opponents would often accuse him of violating the Law of Moses and the traditions of his people. In that, they condemn him as going against God’s will.
And certainly, Jesus frequently does not agree with their interpretation of the Law of Moses. At the same time, Jesus would argue that he is not violating the Law, he is tweaking it to reflect more closely God’s will.
He wishes to bring out its true meaning. We see a good example of that in Sunday’s Gospel reading, Mk 10:2-16.
The Pharisees have approached Jesus to ask his opinion of divorce. They repeat Moses’ apparent toleration of divorce. This appears in Dt 24:1.
But a close inspection of this passage reveals a commandment that attempts to regulate an existing situation. It recognizes that divorce already existed and seeks to introduce some justice in the process.
In other words, this passage in Deuteronomy would not indicate that God approves of divorce. It is as though God is saying, “All right, if you are going to have divorce, this is how you should have it proceed.”
It is a concession to people’s weakness. Jesus voices this interpretation in his response to the Pharisees: “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment.”
Jesus further points to God’s original desire for marriage by quoting Gn 2:24: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
Then, Jesus comments on the verse: “Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”
By referring back to the creation of the human race, Jesus affirms that marriage is meant to be permanent, because that is how we are made. Divorce goes against human nature. If we wish to be truly happy and fulfilled human beings, we should work to stay married.
In other words, Jesus’ condemnation of divorce is not an arbitrary commandment, but is meant to promote our own good and happiness.