Today’s content is topical – lines that give substance to our Christian observance of the sanctity in marriage, and our “official” attitudes to divorce and celibacy. Texts, taken literally and often used to strengthen arguments, providing the moral high ground. The lines, “Have you not read that the one who made them (man and wife) at the beginning ‘made them male and female’, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”, are I think, are too often quoted in isolation from the rest of the discourse on matrimony.
With the benefit of history, we find that “cherry picking” sacred texts is a failing in all faiths when making a point. In the wrong hands it becomes a dangerous tool for introducing conflicts among faith groups, and also dissensions within a society. When Jesus makes the case of divorce it is significant. He introduces an exception to the rule. It makes me think, when read along with the reference to Moses’ command on divorce, that Jesus did not intend His exhortation on marriage to be taken as absolute. (a) Like Moses, Jesus seems to be addressing the “novo stiff necks”, who do not accept the changes he proposes (b) A broad interpretation could be “If you follow the letter of the law, the law will not protect you when you lockup your spouse and physically and mentally abuse her”. (c) It seems a paradox that when he offers adultery as a grounds for divorce; he can also show massive compassion to the woman caught in adultery. He shows the same compassion towards the Samaritan woman at the well.
The paradoxes resolve themselves when read in the light of the demanding task Jesus poses; that of being as perfect as the Father. To enter the kingdom of God one need to be god-like. The message resonates through Jesus’ evangelical mission. The challenge is not in the observance of the law, but in the acceptance of our humanity and our reliance on the mercy of God. We need to acknowledge our own sinfulness, and turn to God for compassion and forgiveness. He assures us that though we may repeat offences a myriad times (70X7), He will forgive us. Though our souls be crimson as sin, he will transfigure us, making us bright like the sun. He will do this because He loves us. For this he assumed human form, suffered and died. He deliberately posts the goal very high, so that in the very reaching we return that perfect love. Each discourse is more a challenge of intent rather than an enslaving prescription – Jesus came to set us free not to enslave us.
Lord, I come before you, sinful and sorrowful. Let me not get ahead of myself. If I am bold, I am emboldened by your words, “If I do wrong show me. If not, why do you strike me?” Let your words be ever in my heart to guide and to teach me the way I must go. Let me see you in nature, in the holy scriptures and the faces I encounter on the way. Amen