31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room today…
This is not an easy Gospel for some of us to hear, as many of us became single parents due to a divorce…and not every divorce meets Jesus’ criteria for being justified, and even those of us whose divorce was helped along by infidelity are not out of the woods here either, unless you have decided to remain alone (romantically) and celibate for the rest of your life.
On the surface of it, these words of Jesus seem pretty harsh, and unforgiving – as if a bit of the Old Testament has been transplanted here in the Gospels (or the good news) of Christ. Many pastors, theologians and writers (much better than I) have struggled with this Gospel in terms of what it means to us today, in a culture where divorce is common, and so is re-marriage! I know of some preachers who will avoid these verses like the plague, not wanting to hurt any feelings, or to have people get upset with them they will instead preach on the Epistle for that Sunday avoiding the Gospel all together. In all honesty I also thought of just not commenting on Jesus’ view of divorce when it came up on the lectionary, but that did not feel right to me…as the Word of God is not supposed to always easy be for us to hear. In truth, Jesus came to stir things up, and this is one of his teachings that certainly does that!
I would love to be able to spin what Jesus says in this Gospel as being a product of his time, and not really relevant for the way life is today, but if we believe that what Jesus said, was for us all, regardless of who we are or when we are living, that argument does not work very well; so we have to take Jesus’ words for what they are.
Does this mean that those of us who have been divorced, or have had a committed relationship end, and have moved on to another love are all hopeless sinners?
I really do not want to think that is so, and not because I am divorced and in a committed relationship with another divorced person, but because I cannot believe that God would ever condemn a good and healthy loving relationship. Many of us ended our previous relationships because they were bad for us, for our partner and for our children, and I cannot believe that Jesus would condemn anyone for leaving an abusive or unhappy relationship, where love was non-existent and there was no more respect or consideration shown or shared.
What I think Jesus is saying to us here is that marriage is important, and that the commitment we make (with or without a legal marriage) should be taken very seriously and respected, and should not be entered into lightly, especially when there are plans to start a family, or there are children already in the picture. Of course we do know this, and few people go into marriage without much thought or consideration, but as humans we do make mistakes, and get into unhealthy situations.
It could also be argued (here I go spinning the Gospel) that if a marriage or relationship is without love, respect or is abusive that it is not a true marriage, that the relationship lacks what truly joins two people as “one flesh”; therefore, ending the relationship is not really a sin, as it was never true or healthy. Perhaps a relationship or marriage that is broken by abuse, addiction, or disrespect can also been seen as a case of infidelity as something outside of the relationship took precedent over any love and commitment that may have been present.
Maybe, we simply have to take Jesus at his word, and admit that we are all sinners (though I really do not believe this)…
Even if we are all sinners (and I guess we are, but for other reasons) the good news is that in Christ we are promised that we are forgiven for our mistakes, and misjudgments, and given second (and more) chances to be happy and to experience how good a healthy, and loving relationship can be for us. True that not all of us do find that wonderful relationship in our lives…I know I had several bad ones before I found my current partner…however, there are many different types of love in the world. After ending my marriage, I knew I needed to focus on myself, and on taking care of my daughter and did not even think of getting involved with anyone else for a long time.
Not jumping right into another relationship helped me a lot, it gave me the opportunity work on myself which helped me to avoid making the same mistakes more than a few times over and over. It also helped me to become closer to my daughter, forming a strong bond with her through talking, playing and just supporting her as she traveled through her life. This bond has helped us to weather some major storms in our lives, and has helped us to grow. The love that I share with her is important in my life, and something I may not have experienced if I had immediately tried to get into another romantic entanglement! During this time, I also grew in faith as I became more involved in my church and in my 12-Step program (which provided another type of spirituality). Prayer became, and remains very important for me, as does praise, and the gift of being able to worship with others on Sunday mornings.
Life can be hard, and we need love and joy in our lives…all kinds of love, from the love of God we share with others in worship and in the world, to the love we have for friends, humanity, and of course, for our children. It is also a real gift to find a good partner in life, not everyone is so fortunate to find a healthy relationship — and sin or not, I do not feel that Christ would look down on us for seeking happiness in our lives, after all he did come with the promise of giving us a new life. Christ wants us to be happy, to have joy and to be free from pain and sin; and Jesus enjoyed a good time shared with friends and family, his first miracle was done at a wedding…a time of celebration!
Let us Pray
God, thank you for your Grace, and for the forgiveness and new life given to us in Christ. Thank you also for the love you have given us in our lives, and for second (and sometimes third and fourth chances). Please help us to see that you want what is best for us, and never want to see us suffer in a sick and tormented relationship. Help those who are struggling with abuse, violence, disrespect and unhappiness in their lives; and give them the strength and support to do what is necessary for their own healing, and the well-being of their children. Let us always remember that you are walking with us in our lives, and that your love will see us through any change or crisis in life, and that only good can come to ourselves and our children by seeking a healthier way of life.