By this time in Jesus’s sermon on the mountainside, I’m beginning to wonder how many people had gotten up to leave. After all, he was getting pretty personal talking about anger and lust. He was really serious when he said, “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law,” don’t make plans to enter the heavenly kingdom. How can anyone survive as his follower?
This next teaching must have really caused some commotion among a few of the male attendees:
It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife must give her a written notice of divorce.” But I tell you, everyone who divorces his wife, except in a case of sexual immorality, causes her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.Matthew 5:31-32 (CSB)
He’s moved away from the Ten Commandments, most thought they could keep, and into other areas of the Law of Moses, because he knew that those who would allow their eyes to wander would also find excuses for divorce. The grass is always greener, right?
The Law required the minimum of effort. A man had to give his wife a certificate of divorce because that showed that his desire to divorce her had legal backing. But Jesus says the certificate is not enough.
A man must not ruin a woman by frivolously using his right to divorce.
This was obviously an issue in the day (we’ll get to our day later) because a year or so later the Pharisees brought it up again with Jesus by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on any grounds?” (Matthew 19:3)
After Jesus took them all the way back to Genesis, back to the first marriage, he said that though God’s way is for husband and wife to not separate, Moses permitted men to divorce their wives, because “your hearts were hard” (Matthew 19:8). He then uses language that reminds us of our day here on the mountainside:
But I tell you: “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another commits adultery”Matthew 19:9
I think the people on the mountainside had the same thoughts his disciples expressed three years later that led Jesus to say, “Not everyone can accept this word.”
Jesus’s words are not always easy to accept.
Are these words of Jesus hard for you to accept today? Whatever your views on divorce (and yes, it continues to be an issue in our day), I think most of us can agree that divorce leaves scars. As I reflect on Jesus’s words today, I realize how much his endorsement of lasting marriage was to protect women. Women of that day were devastated and became outcasts after divorce. Jesus is telling men to think twice and consider God’s will before inflicting such a punishment on their wives.
God’s way is always the way of blessing.
When two people enter into the covenant of marriage (not simply the contract of it), there is mutual support and benefit. Are marriages perfect—hardly, but when two people make God the priority in their relationship, it is always a blessing and witness to the goodness of God’s plan for mankind.
If you’re squirming at the words of Jesus today, take some time to realize that he wants only the best for you. If you’re hurting from the pain of divorce, he is the source of healing. He is also the one who can restore the years the locust have eaten, reminding us that it’s not in ourselves we can be righteous, but in him alone.
Grace and Peace