Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people,
"Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors, Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac; and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in its midst; and afterwards I brought you out. When I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your ancestors with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. When they cried out to the Lord, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did to Egypt. Afterwards you lived in the desert a long time. Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan; they fought with you, and I handed them over to you, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you. Then King Balak son of Zippor of Moab, set out to fight against Israel. He sent and invited Balaam son of Beor to curse you, but I would not listen to Balaam; therefore he blessed you; so I rescued you out of his hand.
"When you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, the citizens of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I handed them over to you. I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove out before you the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. I gave you a land on which you had not laboured, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and olive groves you did not plant.
O give thanks to the Lord for he is good. (R./)
Give thanks to the God of gods. (R./)
Give thanks to the Lord of lords. (R./)
Through the desert his people he led. (R./)
Nations in their greatness he struck. (R./)
Kings in their splendour he slew. (R./)
He let Israel inherit their land. (R./)
On his servant their land he bestowed. (R./)
And he snatched us away from our foes. (R./)
Some Pharisees came to Jesus, and to test him they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?" He answered, "Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."
They said to him, "Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?" He said to them, "It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery."
His disciples said to him, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry." But he said to them, "Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can."
If Moses calld his people, Israel, to heroic fidelity, he first of all declared God’s sublime goodness to them, as his chosen people. Joshua 24 represents a typical covenant ceremony at Shechem, a major sanctuary in central Israel. The people gathered before the tabernacle and recited a well known "credo" (like other formulas in Deut 6:20-25 and 26:3-11). The Israelites had pagan origins for their ancestors had "served other gods," yet God led the patriarchs to the promised land and made a covenant with them. After the exodus from Egypt and the wandering in the desert, God led the people over the Jordan to a fertile land with "vineyards and olive groves you did not plant." Israel’s sacred history tells of God’s continual kindness, exceeding anything they deserved.
In a debate about divorce, Jesus restates God’s original design for marriage: "a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two shall become as one." Recognising the heroic conditions for marriage that this implies, his disciples reckon that it is "better not to marry." Jesus replies that lifelong fidelity is possible only for those who have that special gift. Fidelity is a promise undertaken (with God’s help) by husband and wife, heroic in one sense, yet normal in another. The sacramental grace of marriage, helping and motivating the spouses, translates their vocation into routine daily affection and respect toward each other. Not only does Jesus go back before the law of Moses to re-state our Creator’s original ideal for marriage, but he adds that, for love of God’s kingdom, people can be called to celibacy. Some are bound to the single life by birth defects or by other causes; others are drawn to it by a free decision. Gospel celibacy can be received and lived as a special grace, freeing us for fuller service to God and others, on the example of Jesus himself.
The religious leaders were suspicious of Jesus, because his teaching on marriage went deeper than what their Jewish law required. They knew he would oppose what their law allowed regarding marriage, that is, divorce in certain circumstances. Indeed his ideal of marriage was more radical than what was required by the Mosaic law. He called on men and women to marry for life, appealing to the book of Genesis in support of this teaching.
In practice, many marriages do not last a lifetime. Many relationships break down, and couples go their separate ways. That is the observable reality. But Jesus knew the reality of people’s lives. He was a keen observer of life around him and engaged with people just as they were, "warts and all". He knows all of us in the concrete situation of our lives. Yet, he also had a vision, God’s vision, of how human life should be, including married life. He proclaimed his ideal vision while continuing to relate in a loving way to people who could not reach it, for whatever reason. That includes us all, for none of us lives up fully to the values Jesus proclaimed and lived. There will always be that two-fold aspect to his relationship with us; he loves us where we are, but keeps calling us beyond where we are.