Occasionally, people will use an interesting debate tactic. They’ll say, “Jesus never talked about [blank], so how can anyone claim to know what he really thought about it?”
Most of the time this technique is not sincere, and it’s meant to muddle the discussion about an uncomfortable topic. Well, in this week’s gospel reading, Jesus made a clear statement about an uncomfortable topic, and there is no need to speculate about what He really thought about it.
Jesus said this about marriage: “What God has joined together, no human being must separate.” Then He added, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.”
This is a very uncomfortable subject nowadays because every single person in America now either is divorced or has a very close friend or relative who is divorced. Even people who are blessed to be happily married for many years find this topic uncomfortable. (In my case I am very, VERY blessed. My darling wife of over 36 years is patient and loving and patient and kind and patient. Did I mention that she’s patient? She has to be; she’s married to me.)
Divorce is one of the most difficult topics in our society. On the one hand, Jesus’ words are quite clear: divorce is wrong. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll agree that the high rate of divorce in our culture is not a good thing. The breakdown of the family has produced millions of kids who are now being raised by single parents, or by a series of step-parents, or by mom’s boyfriend-of-the-month. Not good.
On the other hand, we all know of situations where the relationship between spouses has simply collapsed. If they don’t get away from each other soon, someone is likely to end up in the Emergency Room.
So, if you think I’m going to offer a quick solution to this problem, then you must think I’m a lot smarter than I am. I don’t have a solution. All I know is that divorce is sad. It’s like a death in the family. Quoting this week’s first reading from Genesis, Jesus said, “A man shall…be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
When two people are married, a new single organism is created, the “one flesh” Jesus spoke about. A divorce is the death of that “one flesh.” Like all deaths, it is terribly sad.
Although I don’t have any solutions, I’d like to make an observation. In the gospel reading, when the Pharisees asked Jesus, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” He answered their question with a question, “What did Moses command you?
They replied, “Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.”
And that is true. Moses, the great law-giver of the Old Testament, allowed a man to dismiss his wife (Deuteronomy, chapter 24).
But then Jesus offered His amazing statement, explaining why Moses did it. “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment.”
Wow. Moses actually gave a specific law to the people of Israel, not because it was God’s will for them, but because they were so stubborn and selfish.
I wonder how many of our laws today—whether criminal laws, civil laws, or church laws—exist not because of what is right and just, but exist because of our stubbornness and selfishness?
If people spent a little less time looking inward and saying, “My will be done,” and instead looked heavenward and said, “Thy will be done,” maybe our culture would be just a little less stubborn and selfish. And maybe our marriages and families just might stay intact at a higher rate than we now see. I suspect if that happened, it would put quite a smile on Jesus’ face.