Matthew 19:1-12

When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he cured them there.

Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them 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’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

They said to him, “Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?” He said to them, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.”

His disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” Matthew 19:1-12

Don’t miss the technicality in this text. “Technical” seems such a clean and innocent word. In this case, it is a word that hides the pain of male supremacy and female subjugation. The Pharisees are right. All the ancient law required for the dissolution of a marriage was a man kicking a woman out of his tent. For any reason at all. If he didn’t like her cooking….gone. If he wanted some different wives….gone. If he was tired of feeding her…gone. Just like that. With no recourse for the woman at all. One day she is living under the thumb of her husband and the next she is homeless, hoping a family member might take her in lest she end up begging for food or selling her body.

Read the rule yourself from Deuteronomy 24, “Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house…”

Clearly Jesus sees more to marriage than a man’s pleasure and a woman’s utter vulnerability. Yet the Pharisees express surprise. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that marriage be viewed from the point of view of God, let alone women…or children!

We should also note that Matthew, here copying from Mark 10:2-12, adds a little loophole, “except for unchastity,” which was not part of what Jesus taught there…and still it assumes that only a husband can divorce a wife.

What do we make of this? From the beginning there has been recognition of the social and emotional value of exclusive relationships protected by the legal and communal bonds of marriage. Marriage has taken on many forms but it is at the heart of every culture. That is ancient. What is modern is carrying the concept of justice into both marriage and divorce, including justice for all parties involved – the marriage partners, and their children. Like so many things, it might not be good but it isn’t as bad as it used to be.

This is a painful text. It is always painful. It is particularly painful when this text pops up so close to Christmas. For anyone who has experienced divorce – the leaver, the left, the children whose lives have been so disrupted – life brings many opportunities to relive the pain of the strands of life being slowly cut, fiber by fiber. It happens. It is hard. But life goes on. It can get better.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, divorce is a harsh reality of life. Relationships end. Whatever the reason, whatever the circumstances, divorce brings a big gulp of the brokenness of life. We pray today for those who have experienced divorced, those now caught up in the process, and especially the innocent children who don’t understand. This Christmas season we pray for moments of peace, for hope, help, and healing. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


One Response to “Matthew 19:1-12”

  1. Dave Armstrong Says:

    Divorce is an ugly business; therefore, marriage should not be entered into lightly.

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