+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” In a secular context that question frankly ceased to be asked back in 1985. South Dakota was the last state to adopt a no fault divorce law. California led the way with no fault divorce way back in 1969. Whereas a disgruntled spouse once had to give a reason, legally, “a cause for breach of contract,” to get a divorce, now either party in a marriage can get a divorce simply by filling out a form.
The question though, as we have it in the Gospel reading for this morning, wasn’t asked in a secular context, rather, it was asked in a religious context. The two aren’t always the same either, are they? What is lawful in any given culture may or may not be lawful in the eyes of God.
It was the Pharisees who asked the question in order to open up, as it were, a can of worms and to put Jesus on the spot. You see, religiously speaking, that is, among the Rabbi’s of the day, there were two positions regarding divorce. One group, we’ll call them the conservatives, said a man could only divorce his wife if she were guilty of marital infidelity. The other group, we’ll call them the liberals, said a man could divorce his wife for any reason at all, even for burning the roast.
The Pharisees tried to put Jesus on the spot to see which group He would side with. The thing is, no matter how He answered the question He would lose. Whether He sided with the conservatives, or, with the liberals, He would make enemies. But, you know, Jesus almost never answered a question put to him directly. Instead, He used the question, which was usually a “trap,” as a teaching moment by redirecting the conversation in a more beneficial direction.
“What did Moses command you (He asked)?” Some of the Pharisees, probably the liberals, were eager to answer. Oh, oh, we’ve got this one! “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and to put her away, (they said).” Well, not exactly. Deuteronomy 24 says that if a man gets married and finds something “indecent” about his wife (and, of course, the rabbis debated about what “indecent” meant) and if he then writes a bill of divorce and sends her out of his house and she goes off and marries another man and her new husband likewise divorces her or dies, then she can’t go back to the first husband. That would be an abomination to the Lord. In other words, Moses was trying to regulate divorce and remarriage, not permit it. The Pharisees though figured as long as a man had all of his paperwork in order before he kicked his wife out of the house, then everything was OK as far as God was concerned.
But, in the end, divorce isn’t about laws and paperwork, is it? It’s about the heart. It’s about breaking apart a union that God created as a living model of the relationship that Christ has with His Church, where repentance and forgiveness bind us together. Jesus said, “Because of your hardness of heart (Moses) wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” St. Paul, writing about marriage, went on to say, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”
‘Because of your hardness of heart (Moses) wrote you this commandment.’ In the original text the word that gets translated as ‘hardness of heart’ is pretty graphic... σκληροκαρδίαν. Scleroderma, which you may have heard of, is the hardening of the skin. Sclerocardian is the petrification, the hardening of the heart, so that it no longer serves it’s purpose as the seat of faith and of repentance and forgiveness. It’s what causes a man or a woman to justify his or her own actions while he finds irredeamable fault in the actions of his spouse.
Friends, it’s no secret that Jesus’ words this morning are as relevant today as they have ever been. Our nation is riddled with divorce and with all of the problems that go along with it. Some cite statistics as high as 50% of marriages ending in divorce. And, as you know, Christians are not immune to the trend either. In fact, some suggest that divorce rates among Christians are not all that different from those outside the church. It is, of course, with but a few exceptions, against the will of God to get a divorce. It is also terribly destructive to the fabric of the family and to the society as a whole.
The answer to the epidemic of divorce won’t be found in more laws, for, someone once said, “laws were made to be broken.” The answer to the epidemic is repentance and forgiveness found only in Christ. Long ago God promised, “I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”
God gave you a new heart in the water of Holy Baptism. He made you a member of His bride, the Church. He loves you and forgives you. And His love is the true love of which the apostle writes. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
In response to the unfathomable love of the groom, you live before Him in repentance and forgiveness. Instead of seeking justification for you actions, you say to Him, Lord, I was wrong! I have sinned against others and against You. I am unworthy of Your love.
And He who has loved you unto death, even death on a cross, says to you “I forgive you.” More than that, He says, I have made your sins My own. I became what I was not that you might be what you were not. I am the Valiant One, your night in shining armor, whom God Himself elected.
Come, He says, in repentance and trust. Receive My very body and blood, for I am your life and salvation. I clothe you with My righteousness. As the prophet says, “He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.”
“Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.”
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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