In today’s Gospel, Jesus sets aside the law of Moses regarding Jewish divorce law. Jesus makes it clear that while “the law” allowed a man, in a rather simple manner, to divorce his wife and kick her out of his house, he found it unacceptable. In the first century Middle Eastern world women were basically the property of men.
They had little or no identity aside from that which they had through their connection to male members of their family. They were either, a man’s daughter, sister, mother, or wife. Women rarely had an identity of their own which was not rooted in some relationship to a male.
When a man divorced his wife, she lost her identity within the community. When she had married her husband her primary identity came through him, no longer through her birth family. By the action of her husband, the divorce would have cut her off from the community...she would have been seen as bringing shame on her family of origin and therefore likely not welcome in their home nor in the home of another man because she would have been shamed herself.
For all practical purposes the woman (and often her children) was turned out into the streets to fend for herself and for her children. It is this reality that Jesus found unacceptable. In this case the woman and her children became the “the very least of the society”, those for whom Jesus claimed the rest of the society was responsible.
Jesus’ concern is about the woman and the children. Mosaic law allowed for divorce but without concern for what happened to the woman. There was no court that divided up the property of the couple in an equitable manner, it all went to the man. The man was the owner of all the property and objects contained in the home. Moses didn’t take the shame that would befall the woman into consideration when he wrote the law concerning divorce. Jesus said that it was because of “the hardness of their hearts.”
How do I respond to the needs of the “rejected ones” and those “turned out” by society? And for us men...how do I view women’s place in society, in the church and in my personal relationships...is it in line with Jesus’ teachings?