Mark 10:2-16: Jesus and Divorce

The Pharisees were out to trap Jesus in His own words.  And what better place than to set the trap in the tripwire of marriage and divorce!  So, they asked Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

Now, the Republicans of Jesus’ day, the conservative rabbis, said a man could only divorce his wife because of marital unfaithfulness.  The Democrats, the liberal rabbis, said a man could divorce for any reason, even because of a burnt, dinner meal!  So, where would Jesus stand: would He side with the conservatives or the liberals?  Either way, someone would be angry!

Jesus then responded, “What did Moses command you?”  They answered, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”  Well, not exactly.  Deuteronomy 24 says that if a man marries but then finds some indecency in his wife and then divorces her, what would happen if she got a new husband who later died?  The Law did not allow her to go back and marry the first husband.

So, what was Moses doing?  He was regulating divorce and remarriage, not allowing it.  But that distinction didn’t still well with the Pharisees.  They looked for loopholes, lawful ways to get rid of their wives without God getting in the way.

But Jesus didn’t play their game.  He went straight for the heart.  “Moses wrote this commandment for you because of the hardness of your hearts,” He said.  Hardness of heart made that law necessary.  And a hardened heart is another way of saying an uncircumcised heart, which no Pharisee believed he had.  And hardened hearts quickly become calloused hearts–hardened against one’s spouse and, in turn, God.  Hardened hearts are also unbelieving hearts, refusing God’s gifts, looking for loopholes to rationalize sin.

Hardened hearts need the Law to curb and contain them.  And that’s what God’s Law did.  It kept men from treating women like cattle, trading them back and forth to suit their fancy.  For God wants us to treat all people with dignity and respect; after all, were we not all originally created in His image?  We recognize that reality as we properly serve one another, whether as husband or wife.

As this is LWML Sunday, we now take a moment to remember how our women also serve in God’s kingdom.  The Lutheran Women’s Missionary League is how many of our women choose to serve in our congregation.  The LWML exists to serve and support our congregation and synod in its mission work.  As a wife is to support and partner with her husband, so the LWML strives to do so in our congregation.  Even the pattern of LWML support to synod and congregation is based on the model of marriage, even that of the Church to her Groom, Jesus Christ.

Well, back to Jesus’ discussion with the Pharisees.  So, how did Jesus deal with their twisting of the Law?  He took them back to creation.  For marriage begins with God giving, with us on the receiving end, just like during creation.  For like creation, marriage is a gift from God.

And so “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”  God intended marriage to be the closest communion that can exist between two people.  It’s a complete and committed joining of a man and woman into a physical, emotional, and spiritual communion.  And it’s a closed communion–no one is to drive a wedge between a husband and wife.  The only closer communion that is to exist is the communion between Christ and the Church, between Christ and the believer.

Yes, the Pharisees looked for loopholes.  But Jesus held up the gift of God and His will for both husband and wife.  They are to be one flesh by God’s Word.  And anyone who dares to get between them must answer to God.

Jesus’ disciples heard this, but they had lingering questions.  So, they waited until they were alone with Jesus.  And this time, Jesus delivered what He said even more sharply: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.  And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”

Those are hard words.  They hurt our ears, especially in this day of multiple marriages, divorces, living together, and homosexual relationships.  But God’s law doesn’t have loopholes.  He wants the one-flesh union of husband and wife to last “until death us do part.”  What falls short of that falls short of God’s intent.  What falls short of that needs repentance and forgiveness, just like the other sins in our lives.

Jesus’ words should give us pause.  They should make us think deeply about marriage.  For marriage is a holy estate; it’s an institution of God.  Jesus’ words should also make us think deeply about divorce.  God hates divorce.  Divorce is radical surgery with a crude instrument.  It’s never beautiful, and it’s never clean.  It always leaves open wounds and scars.  Divorce is painful.  It’s second only to death when it comes to grief and loss.  It’s a living death, where sin has had its way with God’s gift and one flesh is torn in two.

Yet, divorce happens.  For, after all, we are living in a fallen world.  Sin and death have had their way with the world, with us, and even our marriages.  We live in a divorce-oriented world.  If the car breaks down, we get another one.  If the house begins to have problems, we move.  If the congregation has problems, we go to another one.  If the marriage is broken, we leave.  Divorce has become an accepted part of life.  Divorce does happen–and it happens to Christians.

We need to be honest.  But most of all, we need to confess the sin of divorce and receive God’s forgiveness.  Because whenever divorce happens, sin is in the thick of it.  If sins weren’t at play between the husband and wife, divorce would die its own death.  But hardened hearts that twist and defy God’s will easily become calloused toward God.  Loopholes in the Law don’t help either–they simply continue the hardening of someone’s heart.

So, what can we do?  We can come clean.  We do what a little child may do when he breaks something of significant value.  He picks up the broken pieces.  With tears streaming down his cheeks, he lays them at the feet of his father and says: “I broke it.  I’m sorry.”

If what Jesus says troubles you, don’t change what Jesus says.  Instead, bring your sins to Jesus.  That’s what God calls us to do with the brokenness of our lives.  We gather the broken pieces and put them at the feet of our heavenly Father and humbly say: “I broke it.  I’m sorry.”

Forget excuses, finger pointing, and loopholes in God’s Law.  Confess your sins to God and bury them in Jesus’ death.  Drown them in baptism and receive Christ’s forgiveness.  Live as one whom the blood of Jesus has made clean.  For those with repentant hearts, God will rest His hand on your head and say, “I forgive you because of my Son.”

Jesus gave His life for everyone: those married, single, divorced, little children, even those in LWML.  He reached out in mercy to a Samaritan woman, who had been married five times and was then living with some man who wasn’t her husband.  Jesus defended a woman caught in adultery from her stone-throwing accusers and then absolved her.  He bore our adulteries on the cross.  He became the adulterer in our place so, in Him, we might become the righteousness of God.

If you are married, let Jesus in the middle of your marriage.  He is the Source of forgiveness.  He must get between husband and wife, softening their hearts, sweeping their sins away, and reviving them to live as one flesh.

As sinners, we dare not try to deal with one another apart from Christ Jesus.  He must mediate and get between us.  As He mediates between God and us, so He must mediate between and among us, bringing His harmony and peace.  For it’s only through Jesus that we can forgive one another as God forgives.  It’s only through Jesus that husbands and wives can receive each other as gifts from God.  It’s only through Jesus that two can become one flesh.

Yet, the Gospel reading today is more than about marriage and divorce.  It’s also about receiving what God has to give as a little child would receive it.  For the only ones who got Jesus right in our Gospel reading were the children.

People were bringing little children to Jesus for Him to touch and bless.  But the disciples became annoyed because those little kids, even toddlers, were crawling around and disturbing them.  But Jesus rebuffed His disciples.  And if you noticed, only the little ones that day received Jesus’ blessing, not the adults.

Why was that?  They didn’t come to Jesus looking for loopholes.  They didn’t try to trap Him.  They didn’t quibble with the hardness of His teaching.  They didn’t come boasting about their commandment-keeping.  In truth, they couldn’t even come to Jesus: They had to be brought, as a baby is brought to baptism.  And Jesus says, “Look at these little ones.  That’s the way of the kingdom of God.”

When we receive as a little child does, we receive everything as a gift from God.  We receive the saving bath of holy baptism, the forgiving words of absolution, and the body and blood of Jesus in His Supper.  We receive eternal life, salvation, forgiveness, and peace.

And in the same childlike trust in God, who lavishes His saving gifts on His children, we receive the gift of our spouses, those with whom we are of one flesh.  We receive them “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us to part.”  Amen.