What would you expect Jesus to say? I mean, really. Think about it a minute as you read our gospel lesson from the 10th Chapter of the Book of Mark. Yeah, as your pastor who is called to preach God’s Word week in and week out, it would be easy to skip through those first few verses and focus on verses 13 through 16. Who doesn’t like talking about children and how important they are in the Kingdom of God? Shoot, after all, this might be the perfect opportunity for me to outline to you the reasons the congregation council proposed putting a youth director position into our budget for next year. That would be fun, and it would get me out of having to deal with a pretty sticky subject: divorce.
Why is it so sticky? Well, because of what Jesus says versus the state of marriage in the U.S. today. And what is that state? Roughly ½ of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. Odds are you yourself have been affected by divorce either having a marriage that ended or you know someone whose marriage has ended by divorce. You either know or have seen the turmoil that divorce causes. You know how it affects the emotions deep down within the soul. You know how a bad marriage and its end affects your other relationships with members of the opposite sex. You know how certain words or phrases trigger an emotional response within you–even if the person who says it is far, far removed from your ex-spouse. You know the pain and trauma it has caused your children if there were any in the marriage. You know it affects them, and you wish you could do something about it–to change it and make the hurt they experienced go away. You know the financial burdens divorce places upon your family and other families that went through it. Generally, there are not a lot of good things that come out of divorce.
Now, that isn’t to say that divorce might be an appropriate option in some circumstances. I, unfortunately, have counseled a couple of folks to pursue that avenue because they were in abusive situations. It is not God’s will that a person continually endure physical or emotional abuse in a marriage. That is not God’s intent at all. But neither is it God’s intent for marriages to end easily and quickly for self-satisfaction and gratification. One of the main reasons people get divorced today is because they believe they are not getting personal fulfillment being in a particular marriage. There is no abuse. There might not even be infidelity. They just don’t feel fulfilled being where they are at, and so they decide to move on, even though they go through many of the things I spoke of earlier.
Into all of this, Jesus offers His thoughts on divorce, "6But from the beginning of creation, "God made them male and female." 7"For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8and the two shall become one flesh." So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ 10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’"
Some of you here this morning may think this sounds harsh. Others who are divorced and remarried might be scratching your head wondering if you are in good standing with the Almighty. But, again, I ask you: what would you expect Jesus to say? Would you expect Him to say that it was o.k. to get married and then get divorced without any consequences? Would you expect Jesus to say to a couple planning a wedding, "Just tie the knot and don’t worry about anything. If you find that you are not being fulfilled or if you argue and fuss or if you hit a few rough spots, just find a good lawyer, pay the divorce fees, and walk away as if nothing happened."? Do you really think God’s Son would come down to earth and say such a thing?
Not a chance. Here’s part of the reason why. In our first lesson this morning, we have the story of God’s creation of woman. God realizes it’s not good for the man to be alone, so God seeks to make him a helper. He brings all the animals to Adam, and Adam names them. Yet, there is not found a suitable helper for the man. Therefore, God causes the man to fall into a deep sleep. God takes a rib from the man and creates woman. This is a very important detail to keep in mind in this whole process. Why?
In ancient Judaism, folks believed in a concept called wholeness. They believed God was perfect, whole in every way: complete. They believed humankind was to be as much like God as possible–including being as complete as possible. Man was now short a rib. He was incomplete. He was not whole. And how could he be made whole? How could he get his rib back, so to speak? In a relationship with woman. This is why both the book of Genesis and Jesus himself say, "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh." It is through the relationship of marriage that man and woman become whole once more. It is through the relationship of marriage that man and woman become complete–as God is complete. How this happens is anyone’s guess. It’s a mystery. I’ve preached on this text before, and I stated because of this mystery, the Roman Catholic Church holds marriage in such a high regard they call it a sacrament! Indeed, it is very, very sacred ground!
Knowing now that this was and is Jesus’ understanding of marriage, what would you expect Him to say? Knowing that Jesus believed that when a man and a woman were joined in marriage they were made complete, whole, as God is complete and whole: what would you expect Him to say to those who asked if it was o.k. to break such a thing up? Would you expect Him to make it easy? Would you expect Him to say there are no consequences? Would you expect Him to say such a thing wasn’t sinful and didn’t lead to sin? Would you expect Him to excuse divorce and shrug His shoulders as if it were no big deal? Hardly. Jesus meant what He said, even if that makes us uncomfortable and makes us squirm.
But what if divorce has touched our lives? What does Jesus’ teachings have to say to us? Do we stand condemned if we are divorced or support one of our family members or friends who has remarried and is truly happy in their relationship?
Take a deep breath and remember what it means to be a part of the Lutheran Church. Take a deep breath and remember what it means to live in the law/Gospel dynamic. Take a deep breath and remember, "You are saved by grace through faith."
The Law, which Jesus’ teaching is, condemns us. It is a giant stick which drives us to the Gospel. It is also a mirror which reveals to us our brokenness. It shows us just how short we have fallen from following God’s will. In both of these manners, it leads us to repentance. It leads us to humbly bow before God acknowledging our shortcomings. It leads us to ask for His mercy, and the good news for you and me and for anyone who is divorced and remarried is: God has mercy on you. God loves you. God realizes your brokenness and the brokenness that sometimes happens in marriage. He isn’t happy when a marriage fails and ends in divorce, but He is not going to remove His love from us if it happens. After all, God is a God of love, Jesus showed that beyond the shadow of a doubt, and what would you expect from Jesus? Amen.