07 March 2008

St. Matthew Bible Study - Lesson 19

Continuing with my class notes.

Those tricky Pharisees
At the beginning of the chapter, we see Jesus heading southward from Galilee in the northern part of the Holy Land to "the region of Judea beyond the Jordan." The Pharisees test Jesus by asking him, "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" One one hand, they are trying to trick Him into blasphemy if He were to say no, which would be in contradiction to Deuteronomy and Malachi. On the other hand, we have to remember the fate of John the Baptist. St. Matthew tells us the locale to set the stage for what could lead to a confrontation, or what the Pharisees hope will be. This region is ruled by one of Herod the Great's three sons, Herod Antipas. Sweet son and brother that he is, he is the one who stole his brother, Herod Philip's, wife, who was named Herodias. Herod Philip ruled the northern third of the kingdom, with brother Herod Antipas the middle third and brother Herod Archelaus ruling the southern third. John the Baptist lost his head because he denounced the adulterous relationship of Herod Antipas and Herodias. Herodias, you'll remember, is the charming and cunning gal who had her own daughter (Salome) dance for Herod Antipas and entice him into swearing an oath to give her anything she asked for. Nice mom. Then Herodias told her daughter to ask Herod for John the Baptist's head on a platter. Which brings us back to the Pharisees who are hoping that by asking Jesus about divorce it will bring him the same fate as John the Baptist. What evil, evil schemers. I hope they're enjoying their own fate as well.

See Father Haydock's biblical commentary for more on the Mosaic law and divorce. See also CCC 2384-2386. The Catechism 2385 has this to say relating to the topic:
"Divorce is immoral also because it introduces disorder into the family and into society. This disorder brings grave harm to the deserted spouse, to children traumatized by the separation of their parents and often torn between them, and because of its contagious effect which makes it truly a plague on society."

Consecrated life
The next part of the chapter deals with consecrated life. Jesus talks about celibacy, then say to let the children come to him, and then the rich man who went away sad because Jesus told him to give up his possessions. The stories all related to the point Jesus is trying to make about the consecrated life.

Previously, a man was made a eunuch by birth or by force. This allowed him to be in the king's household without the king having to worry about the man around the queen or his daughters. Now there is another type of eunuch in the New Covenant, "Eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven." They imitate the celibacy of Jesus Himself in order to be servants of Jesus and of His bride, the Church, and the "royal family." They live in anticipation of the life in heaven.

Jesus remarks to the little children, "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of Heaven." Here Jesus is showing that the children are members of the kingdom and that the nature of marriage is ordered to the procreation and education of children. He is also showing how we are to approach Him with complete trust and faith.

The rich young man, who wanted to follow Jesus but couldn't give up his possessions stands in contrast to the consecrated life. As St. Paul mentions in 1 Cor 7:32-35, the single consecrated life allows ones attentions to be focused on Jesus and not divided by earthly things, and in 1 Tim 6:9-10 we see that the love of money is the root of all evil, so the rich young man went away sad because he was unwilling or unable to detach himself from his worldly possessions. Father Haydock has this to say, "I know not how it happens, that when superfluous and earthly things are loved, we are more attached to what we possess in effect than in desire. For, why did this young man depart sad, but because he had great riches? It is one thing not to wish for, and another to part with them, when once we have them. They become incorporated, and, as it were, a part of ourselves, like food; and, when taken, are changed into our own members. No one easily suffers a member of his body to be cut off. (St. Augustine, ep. xxxi. ad Paul.)"

Again, from the Catechism:
915 Christ proposes the evangelical counsels, in their great variety, to every disciple. The perfection of charity, to which all the faithful are called, entails for those who freely follow the call to consecrated life the obligation of practicing chastity in celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom, poverty and obedience. It is the profession of these counsels, within a permanent state of life recognized by the Church, that characterizes the life consecrated to God.

916 The state of consecrated life is thus one way of experiencing a "more intimate" consecration, rooted in Baptism and dedicated totally to God. In the consecrated life, Christ's faithful, moved by the Holy Spirit, propose to follow Christ more nearly, to give themselves to God who is loved above all and, pursuing the perfection of charity in the service of the Kingdom, to signify and proclaim in the Church the glory of the world to come.

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