Every culture has ‘hot button’ issues from a persistent set of controversies existing in all cultures and time periods – especially those involving marriage and sexual ethics. These concerns touch some of our deepest longings and conflicts.
In the historical period just prior to and during Jesus’ public ministry, there were sharp disputes about marriage and divorce between two leading teachers of Judaism. These disputes took place between the school of Hillel the Elder (having a lenient interpretation of scripture) and Shammai and his school (with a more strict interpretation).
In Matthew 19:1-15 the Pharisees asked Jesus a question about divorce that reflected these disputes. When they asked him to interpret Deuteronomy 24:1-4, they were testing Jesus against these preeminent teachers. The Deuteronomy passage begins:
If a man marries a woman and she does not please him because he has found something indecent in her, then he may draw up a divorce document, give it to her, and evict her from his house. Deuteronomy 24:1 NET
Although Jesus’ complete answer in Matthew 19:1-15 is most like Shammai’s view, Jesus redirected his answer to the core of the dispute by revealing a hidden reason men sought religious permission to divorce their wives:
Jesus said to them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of your hard hearts, but from the beginning it was not this way. Matthew 19:8 NET
What a remarkable insight about hard heartedness — how it evokes passages in Genesis which reveal God’s original design for marriage. This answer seemed either to satisfy or silence Jesus’ examiners.
It’s worth discovering or exploring again what Jesus meant when he said “from the beginning it was not this way”. In the middle of heated arguments between present day religious experts, Jesus is still the master of marriage and sexual ethics.
Are you frustrated with contemporary tales of tangled, broken relationships or even ones of your own making? It might be refreshing to observe less complicated relationships in the natural world of animals. Spring is here. Birds and other animals are pairing up. Take a walk or drive to a place where you can spot their activities. If you can’t get outside, watch a nature program. Meditate on the timeless simplicity God shows you, and take your frustrations to him in prayer.