“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. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (verses 4-6)
The Pharisees wanted to talk about divorce. But Jesus wanted to talk about marriage.
There was an ongoing debate among the Rabbis regarding the appropriate grounds for divorce. Basically, there were two sides, both agreeing that divorce was only allowable when the wife was guilty of “indecency,” but with disagreement arising over what “indecency” meant. Some specified it needed to be “gross indecency,” while others said it could include pretty much anything that displeased the husband, even a poorly cooked meal. The Pharisees raise the issue with Jesus now, trusting he will be drawn into the debate and hoping he will say something offensive to one side or the other.
With their legalistic minds, they are focused on the details of divorce. But Jesus is focused on the goodness of marriage.
So he reiterates the creation story, in which God himself brings the man and the woman together that they might become “one flesh.”Marriage results in a oneness that is not meant to be torn apart. “What God has joined together, let man not separate.” It’s as if Jesus is asking, Haven’t you understood what marriage is about?
Yes, he will go on to agree that Moses permitted divorce, although pointing out that it was because of human hard-heartedness. Yes, he will give an exception, allowing divorce in cases of marital unfaithfulness. But where he wants the Pharisees, and us, to focus our attention is on the sanctity and gift of marriage itself, and the oneness that is meant to be undergird that gift with ongoing faithfulness.
The messy complexities of separation and divorce and family brokenness and remarriage all need to be considered against this backdrop. Yes, we are hard-hearted still. Yes, unfaithfulness continues to intrude. Yes, there is forgiveness for past failures in every area of life, together with grace to navigate present realities.
But we are called to embrace a different perspective than the Pharisees’, a different perspective than our own day. Marriage is not meant to be breakable. It’s meant to endure.
And when, like the disciples, we protest that it’s all so difficult, we are drawn back again to Jesus, with eyes open to all this Gospel has already revealed. When storms arise, he can bring calm in the midst. When we think we’re facing it alone, he comes to us on the waves. When there is a mountain to be removed, he invites us to trust with whatever little faith we might possess. When needs arise, he urges us to ask, seek, and knock, calling out to our Father who loves us.
Marriage is a gift – treasure it. When there are difficulties, press into the Lord. Where there is brokenness, seek his grace afresh. In it all, keep eyes on Jesus.
Lord Jesus, preserve all the marriages I am thinking of right now. Bless each one with deep oneness of life. May your grace flow. Amen.
Pray: If you are married, pray the Lord’s renewed grace on yourself and your spouse. Looking around to others you know, pray the same grace for those the Lord brings to mind. Think of those who are separated, divorced, or never-married and pray the outpouring of the Lord’s grace on them, too.
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