2 Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 5 But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,[a] 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. (Mark 10:2-16 NRSV)
“I’ve lost a wife through divorce and a wife through death. I can easily say that losing my wife through death was a lot easier.”
These words were spoken by a friend of mine several months after his wife of more than 25 years had passed away. I was surprised when I first heard them. Doesn’t divorce give at least the illusion of maybe getting back together again? Death is so final.
In the years since I’ve considered his statement many times and I’ve gained a bit of understanding. I’ve never been divorced and I’m not widowed. I don’t know the emotions involved in either. However, I know the difficulties that marriage entails and I understand how they can lead to divorce.
Jesus’ words in this text are difficult to hear. Divorce is all too common today and I wonder if there were similar issues in first century Rome and Palestine. These words have been used to keep marriages together for good and for bad. People have told me that it was passages such as this one that made them stay in the relationship and make it strong again. I’ve also read about ministers who sadly told a battered wife to return to her husband or be damned to hell.
Is Jesus saying you can’t divorce? And if you do, you can’t remarry or you’re committing adultery? Is he laying down a law of his own? Is eternal punishment promised?
Notice that the Pharisees arrive with a question, not because they’re interested in his ideas for lowering the divorce rate, but to test him. Whatever he says will be used against him. They know it. Jesus knows it. He doesn’t give them an immediate answer, he asks them a question. They respond by quoting the law of Moses that permits a man to divorce his wife. She can’t divorce him, but he can let her go for anything from unfaithfulness to last night’s dinner being burned.
Jesus attacks the law. That law was necessary because you’re human and stiff-necked. He then goes backs to the beginning — Genesis. This is what God intended: that when two people marry, they become one and they remain together, both physically and spiritually. God never intended divorce.
In the kingdom of God, mutual respect and concern rule the day. In everything, including marriage. When divorce happens, not only a physical separation occurs, but a spiritual one. To be married is to be open and vulnerable to your mate and to be respectful and caring of your mate’s openness and vulnerability. When that fabric is torn, a deep wound is created; sometimes it’s never mended.
Sadly, we live in a broken world. We’ve spent the past few weeks looking at our brokenness in this broken world. We’ve talked about being willing to take up the cross for Christ’s sake in the world; that to be the greatest in the kingdom is to be the least and slave of all; that we are tempted often and sometimes we tempt others to stumble along with us. These are difficult to hear and even more difficult to do.
We are broken people, saved by grace through faith, living in a broken world. Jesus tells us how to live and sets the bar high. Jesus knows we won’t reach it. Not every time. This text comes on the heals of his previous teachings, so why would they be any different? In a broken world, we fall short, even fail at times. In a broken world, divorce is sometimes necessary.
From Genesis through Revelation, we read and learn about God who loves humanity. God loves us so passionately, that God sent Jesus to live among us. God loves us so passionately, that sometimes judgement has to take place in order to bring us back to the loving father. If sometimes we fail to carry the cross, or serve others as a servant or allow others to stumble and fall on our account, we have sinned. We have let God down. When we divorce or break the marriage vow in any way, we have sinned and we have let God down.
That’s when we become as a child. That’s when we receive the kingdom as a child. We admit our total dependency on God. We open ourselves to be receptive to God’s voice. And we respond as a child.
Jesus isn’t as interested in what is lawful and as he is in the purposes of God. God had a purpose in creating marriage. God has a purpose in everything God created. Jesus walked this earth to show us that way. Not to set the law aside, but just the opposite. To deepen our understanding of it.
In this text, Jesus raises women to be equal with men in marriage and to be equally responsible for the marriage vows. He makes it clear that marriage isn’t something to take lightly and then dissolve if it doesn’t meet your expectations. There’s no money back guarantee. Marriage is holy. Marriage is a spiritual union as well as a physical one. But, he doesn’t make divorce a cruel and unjust regulation.
Just when we think we have the answers to life, someone comes along and changes the questions. Maybe that’s God’s way of saying, “Come to me as a child: dependent on me and receptive to my Word.” When we’re at our best, we can serve others, we can deny ourselves, we can keep our marriages strong. When we’re at our worst, life falls apart.
Grace enters then and picks us up. We become like a child, once again. With a broken heart and a broken life we turn to God’s presence saying, “What was that about dependence and receptivity? I think I’m ready for that, God.”
All glory and honor be to God.