The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Mark 10:2 “Some Pharisees came up to Jesus, testing Him, and began to question Him whether it was lawful for a man to divorce a wife. 3 And He answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” 5 But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. 7 For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, 8 and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” 10 In the house the disciples began questioning Him about this again. 11 And He *said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; 12 and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.” 13 And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” 16 And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (NASB)
Marriage has always been a religious and politically charged topic. It is today and it was in Jesus’s day. In Jesus’s day the hot topic was the grounds for divorce. Today the controversy is about who can marry who and soon I suspect it will be about how many spouses can a person have at the same time.
As for the grounds for divorce most states now allow for only one ground for the dissolution of marriage: irreconcilable differences. It use to be called “no fault”. A difference of opinion over staying married is an irreconcilable difference.
But as I said, this marriage and divorce are now new problems. When Jesus walked the face of the earth there were debates over the grounds for divorce. There was legalistic arguments to justify divorce and, for lack of a better term, a liberal arguments to justify divorce.
In Mark chapter 10, the religious the legalists of the day, the Pharisees were keeping a close eye on Jesus. They were watching Him in the hope that they would find Him in some violation of the law and thereby discredit Him in the eyes of the people.
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke record this encounter and the subsequent questioning of the disciples over the issue of divorce. Each Gospel record contains details unique to the respective Gospel. In order to have a fuller and more accurate understanding of how Jesus answered the question we need all three accounts.
In this morning’s Gospel lesson the Pharisees come to Jesus with a test. Is it “lawful for a man to divorce a wife? ” Notice they ask if it is “lawful.” They do not ask if it is God pleasing. Matthew 19:3 gives us the more complete question. “The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?’”
Now at the time there were two schools of thought among the Jews. The Shammai and the Hillelite schools of thought. The Hillelites thought that a man could divorce a wife for any reason. If he was unhappy with his wife in anyway that was enough. It was their version of “irreconcilable differences.” If one’s spouse doesn’t make you happy in the way you think you ought to be happy, then you’re done. That’s pretty much the dominate view today and our divorce laws have been modified over the last few decades to comply with that more causaul understanding of the marriage covenant.
The other school was the Shammai school of thought. These folks believed that there was only one ground for divorce, which was based on Deuteronomy 24:1ff. “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house….” Indecency is a polite way of saying she was unfaithful.
While we can’t be certain which school the Pharisees held, it appears from their answer to Jesus’s Jesus question that they might have been from that “any reason at all” camp. “‘What did Moses command you?’ 4 They said, ‘Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.’” St. Matthew reports their reply this way. Matthew 19:7 “They said to Him, ‘Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?’”
In the case of the Gospel of St. Mark, they only provide a partial quote, as if the Son of God isn’t going to know the entire quote. Regardless of which account you look at the Pharisees left out the “for cause” clause.
The Pharisees give the impression that they can throw their wife out onto the street for whatever reason they believe is sufficient. After all, in their minds as we see consistently throughout the four Gospels, they believe themselves to be righteous law abiding men whose principle mode of operation is to live above and separate from every day ordinary sinners.
If they find themselves saddled with a wife that they considered less than righteousness, less than obedient, less than holy, and who don’t make them happy, then divorce is the best way to get rid of a “bad” woman and that must be a good thing.
We hear a lot of that kind of thing these days. Just think about all those times you heard a newly divorced man or woman boasting about their divorce. Divorce parties. Victory parties over contested custody and property issues. All of that is just another manifestation of self diluted self-righteousness. The Pharisees were so self diluted about their own righteousness, they saw issuing papers of divorce as a righteous deed.
Jesus isn’t going to let them or you or me escape the Word of God and the Law. “Because of your hardness of heart he [Moses] wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. . . What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Mark 10:5–9)
Sin was never built into the original creation. Divorce was never suppose to be a part of the design. Sin entered the world and divorce soon followed. Divorce exists because of sin, because of broken and corrupt human nature. Marriage was never intend to be a function of the Law. It was always intended to be a product of love between a man and a woman.
Moses’s instructions on divorce was not intended to be an excuse for people to use to get rid of the other. It is not to be used as an escape clause from the Law of God. It is not to be used to feed self righteousness. Jesus’s entire answer to the divorce is one of a choice. Marriage under the law or marriage because of love.
The Lord God allowed divorce as a stop gap measure against something worse. Divorce is a way to keep things from descending into even greater sins against each other and God.
That is what hardened hearts do. They grow harder and worse. Hard hearts grow more unloving, more disrespectful, and more cruel. Divorce is the lesser of two or more evils, for which one is to seek forgiveness from God and forgiveness toward one another.
Rather than dealing in the lesser of two evils, Jesus reminds us what God intended and designed from the beginning. Jesus takes us back to the world without sin. “From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”
When we put all three Gospel accounts together, Jesus is dealing with the men who think they can divorce their wives when their wives who have not been unfaithful and vice-versa. Thus one party or the other is being treated unjustly. In this context, Jesus says, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.”
For centuries New Testament scholars have struggled with the difficulties this statement about adultery creates when we consider other parts of the Scripture and when we look at the grammar used in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Wenzel, a Lutheran exegete from a 100 years ago wrote that record of account puts us “up against a rather difficult problem.”
But remember, whenever Jesus is confronted by people, especially religious leaders whose operating system is self-righteousness, legalism, and the law, He applies the Law in all of its force so that there is no escape. The more we understand the law the more we see just how deep our sin goes. The more we see our sin, the more we come to understand our need for the Gospel, for the forgiveness of sins, and for the Word and Sacrament ministry.
Jesus is teaching that there is no such thing as a God pleasing escape clause, thus no such thing as a God pleasing divorce. It is, as is often the case, the lesser of two evils.
The encounter here once again ends with Jesus welcoming children. But look at how the reading ends this morning. 16 And He took them [the children] in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
See Jesus once again calls sinners, people who know they are not in themselves good in God’s sight. The Pharisees think they are such righteous men they ought to be able to divorce a woman when she’s an obstacle to their self dilution.
This is why the biblical reality of Christ as the Second Adam and the Church as His Bride is more than a metaphor. Jesus and His Bride, to which you belong, will never divorce.
Families and marriages are torn asunder all the time because of sin and the hardness of our hearts. But our Groom—our God—is faithful. He comes to us again and again in His Church and gives us His unconditional love, forgiveness, and faithfulness. This Groom never forsakes His Bride and children, even though we stumble and fall and prove to be unfaithful to Him in small and big ways.
God created Adam from the dust of the ground. He created Eve out of His side and gave them to each other. Your God and Groom Jesus Christ Himself creates His faithful Bride and made Eve the Mother of all living human beings. So also the Church has come out of the side of Christ and is the mother of all the spiritual living, of all who hear and believe.
Christ comes to us, an adulterous and unfaithfulness people and makes us, you, and me pure and righteous in His sight. Ephesians 5:25 “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies . . 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church.”
When we look at ourselves, our families, our marriages, and our lives under the lense of God’s Law, we see that we are adulterous and unfaithful sinners. But that is not what God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit see. God looks at us He sees a beautiful Bride Who is robed in the very righteousness of the Bride Groom, Jesus Christ for all of sins are forgiven.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen