‘”It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”‘ Matthew 5:31-32
Does this passage cause you to slow down and read carefully? That’s what it does to me. It’s probably because we want to know what circumstance might justify or condemn divorce. Even if we are not directly affected by divorce, certainly we have friends whose lives are. We all want to know who is in the wrong and who might still be okay. Here’s the thing, I don’t think that those questions are Jesus’ primary focus in this text.
At this point in his sermon Jesus is still gathering the attention of the crowd. He has everyone leaning forward because he’s already told them they need to be more righteous then the scribes and that anger is on par with murder. Now he seems to be putting the sinfulness and severity of lust on a similar level as adultery. Jesus is trying to get people to wave the white flag and give up on the law as a righteousness-making tool. Rules about divorce are this way as well. Later in Matthew 19 Jesus tells us that even the certificate of divorce was not his ideal vision for marriage but was allowed for in the law because of hard hearts. So what is he getting at here? Even rules about divorce exist as a tutor to guide us into lives of kingdom love and commitment.
Are we the kind of person who is committed to love when it is convenient for us or are we committed to love in sickness and health, for richer or poorer, till death do us part? We should be asking God for help in becoming the kinds of people where divorce is not necessary. If we obsess over a passage in order to avoid being adulterous, it’s too late, we already are adulterous according to the previous text. This is not a rule to be picked apart. It is rule to unearth our tendency toward self-seeking love. Yes, the bar is high but the good news is that the bar doesn’t determine our standing before God. Instead it lays out an invitation to grow in love for a lifetime. So ask yourself: are you the kind of person who loves others with that kind of love? If you are like me, you have lots of room to grow.
Write a prayer of surrender to God. Surrender your “rights” and ask God to make you love even when they are not met by anyone but him. Ask him to make you, like him, one who loves so greatly that he pursues his beloved even when they are adulterous.
By Aaron Bjorklund