This material was first published by Redemptorist Publications
and is included here with their permission.
“And the two shall become one flesh.
So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” (Mark 10.8)
We are at the wedding of two friends both of whom we’ve known quite a long time as members of our congregation. They contribute in different ways to the life of the church and we in turn wish to support them as they become a married couple. We sense that as they are joined in marriage a new being is created, made up from the two of them but also with its own energy, personality and characteristics.
The words of Jesus heard in our Gospel reading today, which form part of the marriage service, serve to affirm this new relationship which has come into being: “What God has joined together, let no-one separate.” As friends and family we are asked to respect and support the relationship between husband and wife as they themselves nurture the new creation they now share together.
But it’s likely that we have also witnessed the tragedy of a broken marriage when it seems that a separation or divorce is the only way ahead. When that happens we will grieve at the sadness of our friends but perhaps also for the loss of that new being, that energy which once belonged to them as a couple.
Any discussion about marriage and divorce and what Jesus said about them will undoubtedly touch some very sensitive and maybe painful areas of our lives and surely Jesus in his teaching, while stating clearly God’s ideals, would recognise our overriding need for his compassion and love.
In that loving spirit then let us look more closely at those teachings of Jesus which we hear this morning.
Some Pharisees come to question Jesus about divorce and, as he does on other occasions, he turns the question round to those who asked it. “What did Moses command you?” he asks.
Their reply is based on Deuteronomy 24.1-4 which states that if his wife does not please him and he finds something objectionable about her, a man may indeed write a certificate of divorce and dismiss her.
Jesus then says that this was allowed as a “concession” because men and women, being human, could not live up to the ideal required by God.
By the time of Jesus controversy had arisen as to what behaviour or condition of the wife might be described as “objectionable” and not pleasing to her husband. For some only adultery came under these headings. For others it might be that something as trivial as cooking food disliked by her husband could be grounds for divorce. Such abuses of this law left divorced women vulnerable, unprotected and without the financial means to look after themselves. Jesus would always speak up for the powerless and unprotected and this is no exception we can be sure.
However, he would also not lose sight of the perfect will of God for the man and woman he created. For that perfect will Jesus goes back to the book of Genesis (which at the time was believed to have been written by Moses): “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”. Jesus goes on to say that when they marry two people become one and having been so joined by God they are not to be separated by human intervention.
In other areas of our lives we recognise that we cannot always attain the highest standards or the perfect performances. We confess our sins to God, acknowledging that we fall short of being the people he means us to be. In all these situations we know that there is an ideal or a perfection to strive for as we seek to do God’s will in this broken world.
But this is a broken world and human beings are broken people with failings and weaknesses which prevent us from becoming completely healed and restored in this life. Given this truth is it any wonder that we sometimes fail to live up to the vows we made to each other and to God? And sometimes the brokenness is so great that to heal each individual the marriage has to be put aside.
Like Jesus we can chose to acknowledge God’s will for man and woman to be together as one being, never to be separated whilst also accepting that when this proves not to be possible we may have to support a couple as they move apart from each other. They will need, not judgment and condemnation but love and compassion.
- God’s will is for a man and woman to join so that they become one being and cannot be separated.
- Because of human failings and weaknesses the law of Moses permitted divorce in certain circumstances.
- That law of Moses was abused leaving divorced women particularly vulnerable and unprotected.
- Jesus re-states clearly God’s perfect will and the ideal of marriage.
- We are called not to lose sight of that ideal but to be compassionate when others cannot meet its demands.
With our brother, the Lord Jesus Christ, at our side to intercede with us and for us, let us pray to God our Father who will look with compassion, love and mercy on us and on all for whom we pray.
Let us pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world, especially those who suffer because of their faith in the Lord Jesus.
Let us pray for all who hold authority over others from leaders of nations to leaders of industry and trade. Let them care for those who look to them for protection, justice and freedom to live in peaceful times.
Let us pray for communities and families around us, especially those in which relationships are strained to breaking point. Let us pray that God’s spirit of love and reconciliation will bring healing, understanding and new hope for the future.
Let us pray for all who are suffering pain and distress that they may sense that God is mindful of them and cares for them with a love which will not let them go.
Lord God, your love is beyond our understanding and you promise to hear our prayers. Help us to trust in your promise and to recognise your spirit at work among those for whom we have prayed, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.