Pentecost +19

Rodney Dangerfield once said “My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.”

Ann Bancroft followed that up by saying that “The best way to get most husbands to do something is to suggest that perhaps they’re too old to do it.”

It seems that marriage can be hard. It’s been widely quoted that about half of all marriages end in divorce, but that’s just not true lately; in the US we’ve scaled back to only about 40%. The chances of a second marriage succeeding are even less, hence the old adage that the best revenge against the man that stole your wife is to let him keep her.

The state marriage is in is troubling. Taken all by itself and out of context, Jesus’ words about divorce and re-marriage in Mark 10 are (also rather) troubling. They are troubling because they seem devoid of the grace Jesus usually exuded. Jesus grace shined the brightest, in fact, when he was faced precisely with people caught in adultery, with a woman married five times and now living with another man, with prostitutes and tax collectors and . . . well, you get the picture.”

“At the same time, there is no denying that Jesus said (what He said) But to what question was he responding? Well, it wasn’t some earnest question of “Lord, is there grace sufficient for one such as I?” Jesus was not responding to a hurting person. Instead he was responding to people who over the years had become experts at splitting some of the finer hairs of the Law of God. He was responding to people who were trying to trip him up, to trap him in one or another interpretation of the Law, either of which could land Jesus in hot water. In short, he was talking to people who treated the Law not like the divine gift Jesus views the Law to be, but to people who treated the Law like a pokerchip or a football—the whole thing to them had become a kind of sick game.

“Donald Juel once pointed out that there was sharp disagreement in Jewish circles as to when a divorce was permitted. Deuteronomy 24:1 permitted this (initiated only by the husband, however) in case there was “something objectionable”about the woman or the marriage. One school of thought said that this unspecified “something” was infidelity only; another school of thought interpreted it more broadly to include any number of things. By asking Jesus where he came down on this issue, the Pharisees were trying to peg him within their broader religious tradition (and so inevitably hoping that Jesus would enflame one side or the other, helping to build their case against him).”1

But Jesus cannot be trapped. Looking on the hard hearts of His questioners, He tells them that the hard hearts of their ancestors caused Moses to permit divorce. From the beginning, Jesus told them, God created us so that once we are married, well, we are one flesh; and if we divorce we are not just divided but rather rent asunder, torn apart, wounded.

There is a school of thought that every sin is actually the sin of pride, that every sin is just an outcropping of the sin that felled Lucifer and his apostate angels. There’s something to that, to think that without pride, no sin would be worth the consequences. I am of the camp that every sin is the sin of adultery. You see, adultery is giving to someone else what properly belongs to your spouse. Sin itself, no matter how grave or how minuscule, is giving away what properly belongs to God; whether it be your heart or mind or body, sin takes what is God’s and spends it on something else.

There’s good news in all of this, in case you were waiting for some good news. The good news is that Jesus knows that there’s sin in all of our hearts, that divorce happens, but what He got really annoyed about that day was that people would take such things, the things that rip us apart, wound us, that rent us asunder, and use them to make others miserable, to punish them over and over. Worse yet, those Pharisees took a tragic thing that happens to their people and used it to test Him instead of caring for those same people.

The good news is that Jesus cares for us, He loves us no matter what state we are in. Married, single,divorced, relationship challenged; wherever we are and whatever we’ve done, the Lord’s grace shines the brightest when it shines on those who, having fallen, look for Him.

1Scott Hoezee, This Week.

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