The short story “The Eight-Cow Wife” by Patricia McGerr gives us an excellent example of the value of respect among married couples.
In the days when dowries were expected, Johnny Lingo, an entrepreneur on the Pacific island of Kiniwata, offered eight cows to the father of Sarita, whom he wished to marry. Sarita was plain and too thin; she walked with her shoulders hunched and her head down. She had no self-esteem whatsoever. Usually, a dowry consisted of three cows or five at the most; eight was unheard of. Nevertheless, that’s what Johnny Lingo gave.
Months later, a visitor to the island of Nurabandhi, where Johnny now lived, came over wishing to avail himself of Johnny’s business skills. He had heard of the eight-cow dowry and the plainness of Sarita. But when he met her, he found her the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen – the lift of her shoulders, the tilt of her chin, the sparkle in her eyes. The fact that her husband loved and respected her enough to offer an extravagant dowry for her made all the difference. Because of him, she had become her best and most beautiful self. Such is the dynamic of marriage: Two persons who love one another more than themselves call forth the best in each other, and together they bear witness to the world that true love and mutual respect are possible. (“The Eight-Cow Wife” is included in Stephen R. Covey’s Everyday Greatness.)
When people marry they make a commitment to love the other for as long as both live. However, for varied reasons, the ideal is not always realized. Many marriages are not life-long. When approached with this reality in today’s Gospel, Jesus did not enter into debate about the lawfulness of divorce. Rather, he focused on marriage as a divinely ordained union, as did the Genesis authors.
William Bausch suggests that we recall the times in which Jesus lived. His was a society in which women rarely, if ever, owned property and had no independent means of making a living. For that reason, marriage was a lifesaver. Marriage guaranteed support for the most vulnerable members of society, women and children. For their protection, marriage had to be stable and enduring. Laws
forbidding divorce indicated that women and children should not be left on their own. In criticizing those who advocated divorce, especially for frivolous reasons, Jesus was taking up the cause of the poor and weak. “He was,” says Bausch, “not once-and-for-all condemning divorced persons, but he was coming down squarely on the side of the defenseless. ‘Don’t do that to women!’ is his stern message.”
With this background, we can understand Jesus’ words not as condemnation, but as an expression of compassion. (Taken from Patricia Sanchez reflection in Celebration)
Marriage is a wonderful vocation – one that we need to encourage and support. When a marriage fails we are not called to judgment, but to compassion and caring.