Divorce is never simple or easy or painless; divorcing ourselves from half of humanity is even worse.
told by Deborah
While he was teaching the crowds, some Pharisees tried to entrap Jesus, questioning him, “Is it permissible for a man to divorce his wife?”
He answered, “What did Moses command you?”
“Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of dismissal and divorce her,” they replied.
Jesus shook his head sadly, “He wrote that because of your hard hearts. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made male and female.’ That’s why a man leaves his parents and joins with his wife, and the two become one. So they are no longer two, but a single body. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Later, in private, the disciples asked him about what he had said.
He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
People were bringing little children to Jesus to bless; and the disciples scolded them. When Jesus saw what they were doing, he sighed, “What’s with you guys? Let the little ones come to me; don’t interfere; God’s kingdom belongs to them, too. I’m telling you,” he said, “whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he embraced them and blessed them.
It’s one of my guilty pleasures: the channel that broadcasts old television programs, some dating back to the 1950s. The other night they aired an early episode of The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. Watching it, I was hit by a wave of nostalgia: the music, the costumes, her exotic beauty and powerful voice, and the genuine affection between them. “It’s a shame that they got divorced,” I said to my husband, “they were such a cute couple.”
That is an opinion that neither Mr. nor Mrs. Bono would have shared during (and for a time after) their famously acrimonious divorce. I’m certain that, to them, it was not the least bit unfortunate, but absolutely necessary: definitely A Good Thing.
We have all witnessed divorces of friends or family that surprise and distress us; everything appeared to be fine; they seemed so good together … and then, all at once — or so it seemed, it was over. Suddenly there was anger, resentment, and divisions that could not be healed. Or, perhaps worse, cold, calm, calculating acceptance: “It’s just the way it is.”
We mourn the end of the marriage, even if the participants do not (visibly); for the damage is never limited to the couple. Friends and family are caught up, distressed, seeking to offer support and encouragement, often feeling obliged to take sides, to support one over the other; to cheer “our” hero and boo the “villain.” Friendships fall apart, relationships are shattered. And, when there are children involved, the fallout is far greater and far more lasting.
Simply put: Divorce is never simple or easy or painless. No wonder Jesus condemned it so heartily. But it does happen.
You almost wonder if the Pharisees asked the question about divorce in order to turn some people away from the Lord, expecting that he would denounce it unequivocally, as he did, attributing it to hard-heartedness; to hearts having turned to stone. (They didn’t ask in private, but while Jesus was teaching the crowds; perhaps the Pharisees shouted it out, interrupting him as he was speaking, hoping to distract him or upset his listeners.)
Jesus’ view cannot have been a popular one — taking a stand harsher than that of the Law of Moses. While not nearly as common as it is today, divorce was not unknown in Roman Palestine: both women and men could legally divorce their spouses, and did.
In his response to the Pharisees’ question Jesus cited a passage in Genesis describing how man and woman were created and how, in turn, they were joined together. The man leaves his parents’ home and establishes a new one with his wife: they are no longer two individuals, but one family. It is almost as if the original earthling is reunited with its missing portion through marriage:
“This at last,” the man declared, “Is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for from Man this one was taken.”
This helps to explain why divorce feels like a ripping apart, a tearing: it is as if a part of oneself has been removed — cut away without anesthesia. It hurts.
On the other hand, only the most starry-eyed romantic truly believes that marriage is: “Two souls with but a single thought, two hearts that beat as one,” as the poet John Keats declared. In fact, Jesus’ idealized notion of human pairings tends to support the traditional belief that the Lord himself was not married: only a bachelor would imagine a husband and wife to be such a cooperative, amenable, high-functioning unit!
Curiously, shortly after the Creation scene that Jesus quotes from, the couple are cast out of Paradise. Not exactly the most fortuitous beginning for a relationship — and yet perhaps the most honest statement of our condition: we are in this together.
Our lives are inextricably bound to one another, we people, male and female, alike. Together we are co-creators of the human family, co-creators of our relationships, our communities, our society, our destiny — and the destiny of our planet.
Whether we wish it so or not, we are component parts of a single family, from which we cannot divorce ourselves. Male and female alike contribute to the world; we literally cannot live without each other (beyond a single generation). We cannot dispense with one gender, and we have no right (nor cause) to condemn another simply by virtue of its sex. If you want to get technical about it: it’s unBiblical — and certainly unChristian.
Keeping with the Genesis depiction of how people came to be, we note that — despite years of theological maneuvering to prove the contrary — the woman isn’t the “cause” of our troubles. Both male and female ate from the Tree, both concealed themselves from each other and from God, both engaged in shifting the blame and accusing another. Neither one is shining example of integrity, and neither one is inherently evil; it turns out that both are just people — behaving as we are inclined to do; male and female alike: full of faults and failings and self-justifications.
To write off an entire gender — to “dismiss” them, as the Pharisees describe it — is to engage in “adultery,” just as Jesus warns. It is to be unfaithful to our relationship with half of humanity, and to engage in idolatry of the other half. As in so many divorces, it turns into a blind devotion to “our side,” and an aggressive, reflexive hatred of “the other.” Friendships fall apart, relationships are shattered. But this isn’t a small community we’re talking about: this affects the entire human race.
Satan divides, Christ unites.
Everywhere we look there are shattered relationships, friends and families and whole communities divided, suspicion and fear and hatred infesting our homes. Bonds of trust have been broken, hearts have been hardened, divisions grow wider; evil intentions and malice stake claim to our souls. Society is split down the middle. This is not the Way we have been called to follow; it is not the Kindom (yes, KIN-dom) our Lord Jesus called us to build and proclaim.
Immediately after his teaching about divorce, we are told that once again, Jesus’ disciples were scolding the parents who had brought their children to see the Lord and, once again, Jesus scolded his disciples for doing so. He tells them that what is essential is welcoming the Kingdom as one would welcome a little child, and then throws open his arms and hugs and blesses the children. Jesus welcomes the children with kindness and compassion — not because they are girls or boys, or good or bad, worthy or unworthy, but because they are members of the human family, male and female alike. He did not discriminate against any, nor show preference: all were welcomed.
Welcoming is more than grudging acceptance or mere tolerance: we’re not called to simply put up with those who are part of God’s Kingdom (especially those we consider “others”), we are to invite them in, to offer them hospitality, to be charitable and kind. As male and female disciples of the Lord Christ, we are not to divorce ourselves from any aspect of humanity, but to be lovingly relational; throwing open the doors of our hearts to all of the Kingdom of God — the kin-dom of God that welcomes all people, that shows compassion for all people, that seeks to bless and heal and nurture and care for all of God’s family, male and female alike.
Christ’s grace and healing love,
How can you help to heal the divisions in our world?