Lectionary Sermon (Gospel) for October 3, 2021

Mark 10:2-16   Divorce, a Path of Pain

Throughout my service to my Lord, I have had occasion to help people through many different crisis that can erupt in a human life. Of all the different problems that can hurt a person, I believe the most painful, most damaging, the hardest crisis a human being can be forced to endure is that of divorce.

In the book of Malachi, we find what the Lord God thinks fo divorce, “For I hate divorce, says the LORD, the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless.” (Mal. 2:16 NRS)

Now, note, God hates divorce not the divorcee. God hates divorce because it is a pain God deals with all the time. God, the Holy Trinity, knows experientially the pain of divorce.

Too bad the church does not follow the example of God. It is said that divorce is really an unforgivable sin in the church. People are isolated, ignored, insulted, and emotionally injured by the church because of a divorce. In one denomination I served in a divorced person could not serve in leadership.

The one institution that could be of significant help during a time of devastating emotional, spiritual, and sometimes physical trauma, the church adds insult to injury.

We are told in the passage that the Pharisees, the Biblical conservatives of their day, came to Jesus. We are told they came to “test him.” When it says they wanted to test him they we not trying to find out what Jesus knows. No, they are trying to trick him, to get his to say something they can use against him, how they might discredit him through their “superior” insight.

The topic they choose to attack Jesus with is the issue of divorce.

The legal reality of Jesus day was highly skewed toward men. All a man had to do to divorce his wife was to give her a document saying they are divorced. If the man didn’t want to take the trouble of giving him soon to be ex a paper indicating they were divorced all he had to do was say, “I divorce you three times and the deed was done. It was much harder for a woman to divorce a man.

The question they ask Jesus has to do with what is legal, not what is right. We human beings can create laws that allow us to sell other human beings, discriminate against people, and even take their property legally through the law of imminent domain. Whereas laws may make things legal, they do not make things right.

Jesus knows what they are up to. Jesus answers them by going to the authority the Pharisees love to quote (when it was to their advantage). What does Moses say?

They reply, “They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” (Mk. 10:4 NRS)

Moses allowed divorce does not erase God hates divorce. We are dealing with a human issue so serious it is more important to understand than to be legal.

Jesus’s words, captured and inspired in the writing of Mark gives us insight into the purpose of marriage and the reality of divorce. Jesus tells the Pharisees, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.”

Because God understood that when it comes to true love, true commitment, true faith, and true understanding God knew human beings can be hard. God knows we can develop a stubborn attitude toward changing one’s behavior. This is our hardness of heart, our stubbornness, and insensitivity.

Divorce may be legal but it still is not right in the eyes of God. I am not talking about who is to fault. Even the Lord granted an exception due to not being sexually faithful. The issue is not really about what is legal. This issue is the purpose of humanity and the place of love that is solidified in commitment.

Jesus, in speaking further with his disciples on this subject, again shows the seriousness of divorce. Jesus says, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Jesus adds a new dimension to the discussion, adultery!

Now wait, is Jesus get legalistic? The capital sin of adultery! Yes, divorce goes against God’s plan for humanity. The damage of infidelity is a cesspool of shame, guilt, hurt, pain, selfishness. Adultery is not viewed as a capital crime anymore; it is not even considered a crime. For goodness sakes, there are many “Christian” organizations that overlook it or at times even encourage it. Many would say it is not a sin. So how do we receive these words?

But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So, they are no longer two, but one flesh.   Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Mk. 10:6-9 NRS)

With these words Jesus ties the institution of marriage with the very act of creation itself. God created this institution with the idea of people being able to grow in love and intimacy and to engage with God in the on-going act of creation through the birth of a living eternal soul. God still creates human souls within the context of a relationship between a man and a woman. Yes, with the birth of children, a marriage, family, union souls are created that have the capacity to love.

But even more. Jesus grew up watching a man deeply love a woman. It was modeled for him by Mary and Joseph. Jesus knew the spiritual power this flow of God instituted as marriage could have. Jesus knew how important it was that this relationship should be to each and every human being and how in its own way could be a means of grace framed in love in a world yet to be redeemed.

Note, this is not a fairy tale kind of interpretation. Jesus drives home the seriousness in framing those harsh words about the consequences of divorce. Jesus know it is hard. Jesus knows a marriage relationship is hard work and next to our relationship with God should be the we work on our hardest (Both who have shared the vow) to make the marriage succeed.

There is a congregational vow that I always offered at the end of any marriage. I ask those who have attended to understand the seriousness of what they have witnessed. They had witnessed two people make a vow to strive to succeed in this marriage. Will you vow to do all in your power to help them in any way you can to succeed? If so, say I will.

I believed Jesus would probably expect a community that claims to follow him to be more interested in a loving marriage that honors God and both partners.