“Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
October 1, 2021, Words By: Rev. Sarah Wiles, Image By: Unknown
I’ll start by confessing that I’m not divorced, which makes this tricky pastoral territory for me. But, of course, I know many friends and loved ones who are divorced. I have married people who have later separated. And I have presided over remarriages. Perhaps you have some of these experiences, too.
I don’t believe this is a text just to people who are divorced or considering divorce. That’s not who Jesus addressed it to, and we shouldn’t relegate it to a limited audience either. Jesus is speaking to all of us as he calls forth a way of being that is one flesh, one humanity. This, I believe, is a word of compassion for us all. Yes, compassion.
For one thing, this guidance represents a significant shift from older custom and law. Where before a man could divorce his wife for virtually any reason, or no reason at all, here Jesus calls men to faithful love and deeper respect for their wives, and, at the same time, he gives women the same agency as men. This is progress.
But I don’t believe this passage stops there. Relationships can be holy. Some relationships are transactional, but some are holy. As I understand it, marriage can be among the holiest because it is formed around promises. And when our holy relationships end, there is pain for everyone involved.
However, if we are honest, we know that not all marriages are good. Marriages can be the cause of untold suffering. I don’t believe it is ever Christ’s will that one stay in a relationship that is dealing death rather than giving life. But even when unholy marriages end, there is pain all around.
In thinking about this passage, Rev. Tom Are gave me a helpful perspective. Referees stand on the side. You never hear from them unless a rule is broken. They aren’t concerned with how well the game is played, just the rules. They are not concerned with the good, just the legal.
The church is not a referee. It doesn’t exist simply to throw a flag, blow a whistle when a rule is broken. Our call is to pay attention to the good, to work toward good relationships, and seek good even when they end.
What if we thought about Jesus’ teaching about divorce as being like parents who teach their children not to play in the street? “This is the rule,” they say. “You may play in the yard, but you may not go in the street.” Some kids immediately head for the street, while other kids try to stick to the yard, but then a ball rolls out into the street, or a friend stands in the street inviting them out. The rule is hard to keep. And so, the parent reiterates it again and again for the good of the child.
But if the rule is broken and a child is injured, no parent in the world would stand on the curb and simply recite the rule. No, the parent would run to the child, gather them up, kissing away hurts, calling for help if needed, doing everything in their power to seek wholeness.
Jesus comes to us as the parent who will run out into the street, heart pounding in love with us, to gather us up, come what may, calling us toward the good of oneness. And so, too, here. This guidance exists to help us toward the good. But when it all falls apart, Jesus will always, always, always run out into that road and be with us with words of compassion and love. This is the one we follow.
Dwelling Among Us
The Pharisees try to trap Jesus with a question around divorce. Jesus uses language they are familiar with, but seems to be thinking of something bigger. Read Ephesians 2:15 and consider what Paul meant by “He is creating in himself one new humanity in place of the two, so making peace.” How is this Good News to a divided world?