James 5:9-12
Mark 10:1-12


‘Is it against the law for a man to divorce his wife?’

In the Jewish patriarchal society, the assumption underlying the questions on divorce was that men were superior to women. A Jewish man effectively owned his wife, she had no rights. A man could divorce his wife by producing a writ of dismissal. On the other hand, a woman could not divorce her husband.

Jesus questions the Pharisees about what Moses commands about divorce. He does this so he can propose the proper relationship and relative dignity of man and woman in marriage.  

Jesus maintains that God created humans equal, both male and female. Both derive their origin and their dignity from God. Mark had already made the point clearly that in the Kingdom there are no second-class citizens. All are of equal dignity and are to be treated with equal respect – the Kingdom is counter-cultural.

Within the culture, the man married the woman and she became part of his extended family. The woman left her family. The man did not leave his. However, Jesus is counter-cultural as he has the man leaving his father and mother so that “the two become one body.”

God who from the beginning in his love created these two individuals now calls them together to commit without reserve to a lifelong union of hearts, so that they are no longer two, but one flesh. What God has united, no one must not divide.

This final remark indicates something new for his time: equal rights and equal responsibilities for both partners. Women are not commodities to be picked up and dropped off at will.

Marriage is to be a union of equals in which they respect the dignity of the other.

Joanne McGrath is a parishioner of St Brigid’s Marrickville and a Passionist Companion.

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