“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
The Catholic Church, of which I am a member, has always said the Jesus is teaching us that divorce is wrong, and marriage is indissoluble. Again I would like to stress that the Sermon on the Mount is not the new law. He is showing us what it would look like if we got it right, and so shouldn’t be interpreted in any sort of legalistic way. I think that what Jesus is pointing out here is the one-sidedness in the way divorce was handled at the time.
Divorce was allowed in the Jewish culture, but it was completely on the side of the male. The man had all the power. Maybe he saw someone else he wanted to marry, or perhaps his wife hadn’t produced a son, or maybe he just didn’t like the way she looked anymore, all he had to do was declare that they were divorced. Jesus is once again taking the side of the oppressed. This time that of women. He even says that divorcing her makes her the victim. Remember that women had no place in society without a man. They had to have a father, husband, or son to take care of them. Divorce could be catastrophic for a woman.
This was the traditional religious practice of the day. The mechanism of bondage here is how the man has all the power. This destroys any real justice, dialogue, or reconciliation. It makes women into second class citizens, which dehumanizes them.
Equality is the transforming initiative. Give both parties equal say. Both must take responsibility for the death of a marriage. This was revolutionary thinking at the time, and in many places in the world still is.