MARK 10:2-16 (see below)
In today’s Lectionary Gospel Reading we find ourselves confronted with a troubling text, a text that pushes sharply against settled Western sensibilities and the ongoing push toward individual freedom.
Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate."and
"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."When some hear words such as these from Jesus their spirits may rebel against the teaching, but, in reality, the issue of divorce and the church was settled long ago in favor of silence. Most church leaders really see no burning need to unseal the package for fear that the sell-by-date, now long past, means that the contents, once opened, will land its stink on us. But, this unwillingness to have these words of Jesus -- these questions of divorce and remarriage -- openly discussed and argued only takes us more out of touch in a world rife with sad, broken relationships as well as flippant, poorly committed marriages.
Brothers and Sisters, to this destructive situation Jesus has something to say, something which goes to the heart of the new humanity that Jesus envisioned for his new community. We could call this teaching the Kingdom Way for the New Humanity.
This discussion concerning divorce and remarriage occurs because the Pharisees ask Jesus a question:
"Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?" They were testing him.Hmmmm. OK, so what is the test?
N.T. Wright reminds us that this confrontation took place in the region beyond the Jordan (10:1), and we need only ask just who it was that recently ministered there to realize the test that confronted Jesus. This was the ministry territory of John the Baptizer, who was recently beheaded because he was willing to give his opinion on...divorce and remarriage -- King Herod’s!
Jesus, of course, sees through this ruse and merely answers their question with a question. His was a non-answer, answer:
"What did Moses command you?"Here’s the text in question:
They replied, "Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her."
But Jesus told them, "Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment.
"Suppose a man marries a woman but later discovers something about her that is shameful. So he writes her a letter of divorce, gives it to her, and sends her away. (Deut. 24:1)There were two primary schools of interpretation toward this verse. The first said divorce was allowed from the woman for only a shameful or an indecent act on her part (but not adultery, for that had a different penalty). The second said that divorce was allowed for any reason the husband wished. Be clear, then, no matter what else is said, the woman had no stated power in this particular proceeding.
Jesus takes the entire discussion about what Moses permitted and proceeds to explain, sure, Moses permitted divorce because your hearts were hard, but the real design for marriage was man and woman in a committed, sexual union. He then moves the argument back to creation and the Creator’s original design -- one man, one woman becoming one flesh.
It was later, when alone with the disciples, that Jesus offers the heart of his teaching:
In the house the disciples again questioned Jesus about this. He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."
We must notice here that Jesus makes no provision for divorce and remarriage from either interpretation of Deuteronomy 4. In this same teaching from St. Matthew’s Gospel 19, Jesus does allow that divorce is permitted, but only for infidelity.
Ok, so, what are we to do with this text and this teaching? What are we to do with such a narrow view in such a wide-open social structure of the present?
THE KINGDOM WAY
First, we must accept it and not explain it away. If we trust that the text offers us Jesus’ words then we must allow Jesus to say this to us. And, likewise, we must own our unwillingness to follow the Kingdom-way, the Jesus-way.
Clearly our hearts are hard; are will’s are bent on pleasing ourselves. And, listen, this is not just in marriage, but in a whole host of issues. We are sinful and fallen and in need of a Savior who would give us a new heart and a new desire away from the selfishness in ourselves (take up your cross), toward a new way to live (follow thou me). Which is, after all, the point of all this.
Second, we must see that not everyone will accept this teaching, but -- and this too is the heart of the matter -- the lifestyle Jesus describes must especially be true of his Kingdom people. That is, this exchange with the Pharisees shows Jesus calling his followers to a radically different manner of life from the surrounding culture, one offering the contrast and sharp relief of the fidelity and hope and the radically new future offered by the King, as well as a living picture of the LORD’s fidelity to his own people. This total commitment to GOD’s new way opens to the watching world a picture of how life in the Kingdom will be lived. And believe me, this sort of devotion is noticed in a selfish world such as this, a world at war with itself.
But, how can we walk this way? In point of fact, the only way this can be accomplished is that the believing couple is empowered by the Holy Spirit in their lives together, and uplifted by a believing community of faith.
Third, Kingdom people must treat women as partners, and equals, and ones not to be exploited and thrown away. We must hear the Prophet Malachi in this regard. I bring up Malachi because this Prophet illustrates not only the infidelity of the chosen people, but YHWH’s promise to return and restore them, which I would argue is exactly what Jesus is doing in today’s text:
13 Here is another thing you do. You cover the LORD's altar with tears, weeping and groaning because he pays no attention to your offerings, and he doesn't accept them with pleasure. 14 You cry out, "Why has the LORD abandoned us?" I'll tell you why! Because the LORD witnessed the vows you and your wife made to each other on your wedding day when you were young. But you have been disloyal to her, though she remained your faithful companion, the wife of your marriage vows. 15 Didn't the LORD make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard yourself; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. 16 "For I hate divorce!" says the LORD, the God of Israel. "It is as cruel as putting on a victim's bloodstained coat," says the LORD Almighty. "So guard yourself; always remain loyal to your wife." (Malachi 2:13:16)
Fourth, we must see marriage not just as a legal arrangement, but as a committed sexual union that is broken honorably in the sight of GOD by either adultery, desertion, or death. Of course, the Almighty does not expect anyone to remain in a place where force exerts brutality, but, we are expected to attempt to follow the Jesus-way in our homes.
“But, Pastor,” you say, “it’s too late for me, then. I’m divorced and remarried.”
To which I respond, “No, it’s not too late, not really.”
If you are divorced and remarried, then live faithfully in the marriage you have. Give yourselves to each other and to the LORD. Take the committed sexual union that you now have and honor it and cherish it and allow it to flow forth with the love that ultimately displays the love of GOD for his good world now marred and broken.
Said differently, live faithfully together in a committed community of faith, showing forth the reality of Christ’s love for the church through your love for your partner. This is the Jesus-way; this is the Kingdom way in human relationships.
The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked,
"Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?"
They were testing him.
He said to them in reply, "What did Moses command you?"
"Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce
and dismiss her."
But Jesus told them,
"Because of the hardness of your hearts
he wrote you this commandment.
But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.
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,
no human being must separate."
In the house the disciples again questioned Jesus about this.
He said to them,
"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another
commits adultery against her;
and if she divorces her husband and marries another,
she commits adultery."
And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them,
but the disciples rebuked them.
When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them,
"Let the children come to me;
do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to
such as these.
Amen, I say to you,
whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child
will not enter it."
Then he embraced them and blessed them,
placing his hands on them.