When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”
Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” (New International Version)
It’s interesting that the compilers of the Revised Common Lectionary chose this Gospel lesson the day after Valentine’s Day. Not sure I would do that, but here we are, so let’s deal with it….
I grew up in an era in which not many couples divorced. Frankly, that probably was a bad thing, because there was plenty of hanky-panky going on, and far too much domestic violence that didn’t get dealt with. Women, mostly, tended to put up with an awful lot from abusive men.
Today, of course, divorce is common. And that’s probably a bad thing, too. A whole lot of couples aren’t working through their communication issues – and that’s because many individual persons have done precious little in addressing their own background experiences of trauma and/or abuse.
In short, divorce is not the ideal – but it’s necessary. And Jesus understood this more than most people of his day. It isn’t supposed to be this way, all this interpersonal crud, heartache, and pain. Yet here we are, having to navigate broken relationships, busted marriages, and bewildered children.
No married couple, on their wedding day, anticipates a divorce in their future. Nobody anticipates having a debilitating illness or to be locked into poverty. Instead, we are optimistic, believing that we’ll fall more on the side of better than worse, richer than poorer, healthier than sick, and cherishing the other more than irked by them.
As of this writing, my dear wife and I have been married nearly 38 years. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears have gone into being together for all that time. We have weathered many experiences with one another. Yet, I’m under no illusions; there’s nothing particularly special about me or my spouse. There are plenty of couples who have put in as much work as we have, and their marriages still dissolved in an ocean of disappointment.
I’d like to think I am not speaking as one above others, but as a fellow guy just trying to do his best with what he currently knows – and grateful that I have a partner and friend who sticks with me and lives life alongside me.
The last thing any divorced folks need is a bunch of condescending gobbledygook from a pious simpleton who likely doesn’t have a clue about what’s going on.
The truth is that we all need to continually come back to what Jesus encouraged us to do: Avoid hardness of heart, embrace humility, and seek oneness and unity above all else. A marriage that has two people living under the same roof like roommates, isn’t really a marriage, at all; they may have the legal document to prove it, but they don’t have the relational practices to back it up.
Divorce is a major change of life. Put that together with the reality that life is always progressing and never stays the same, we all undergo many new beginnings throughout the course of our lives.
Thankfully, there is another reality that will forever stay the same: You were created in the image of God, both male and female, and that divine likeness can never be taken from you. Wherever you go, whatever you do, God is with us. One is never outside the Lord’s reach.
The self-righteous person who belittles any and all divorcees is unaware that even God has experienced divorce and knows precisely what it feels like:
I [God] gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery. Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood. (Jeremiah 3:8-9, NIV)
Perhaps your frame of mind right now is that you can barely see beyond today and cannot even imagine what will happen tomorrow. No matter the circumstance, regardless of who you are, where you have been, or where you are going, there is a God who exists on heaven and earth who completely knows and understands your situation.
And the Lord stands ready to help you begin again and start something new.
Where hearts are broken, grant your healing.
Where trust is eroded, restore good faith.
Where bitterness has taken root, plant seeds of forgiveness.
Do not let anger destroy us, O God,
but teach us to love as Christ loved us. Amen.