marriage: what Jesus said and meant (I think)

Biblea biblical reflection, based on Mark 10.2-9, for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, October 4, 2015

Some Pharisees, faithful observers of God’s commandments, test Jesus, asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” They already knew there was legal precedent. Jesus, also aware, in his typical manner, answered their question with a question, “What did Moses command you?”, compelling them to fess up, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.”[1] Jesus also was mindful of the surrounding patriarchal culture that deemed women to be chattel, viewed marriage as an institution for the preservation of property and inheritance, status and honor, and reserved the right to divorce only for the husband. Reflecting on God’s purposes “from the beginning of creation”, he spoke an inclusive word about the mutual sanctity of marriage: “God made them male and female…and the two shall become one flesh…Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate” (my emphases).

Now, before hastening to codify Jesus’ teaching into an unalterable law mandating that there are no grounds for divorce (though, throughout time, there have been societies and communities that have done that), I believe that proper interpretation of scripture involves both understanding what is written and why. The latter, in this case, as I suggest above, pertains to the male-dominated first century world.

Hence, as I read it, Jesus’ word (though eternal also embracing time and culture-centered situational elements) cannot be made to:

  • Declare all (including abusive, destructive, manipulative) marriages inviolate and indissoluble; thus,
  • Deem all divorced persons irredeemable lawbreakers; or
  • Deny the possibility and much less the validity of same-sex marriages (not even Jesus, who walked the earth in a particular day and time, could have addressed a concern that did not exist)

His word is a theological proclamation (“…from the beginning of creation, God…”) with an explicitly spiritual intention (“…the two shall become one flesh”). Jesus declares what marriage is from a heavenly perspective. Not a legal contract meant to assure ownership and inheritance rights and the fluid transfer of property. Although in our world we often make it so. Marriage is a dynamic, organic union where God lives in covenant with two people who, in the oneness of their Spirit-inspired love for God and each other, become for each other and the world an incarnate sign of God’s unconditional love.

[1] See Deuteronomy 24.1-4

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3 thoughts on “marriage: what Jesus said and meant (I think)

  1. Thank you for your notes on this. Your words of wisdom inspire me to be someone greater than I currently am. A great reminder for me to be and to show God’s love to my wife unconditionally.

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  2. Paul, I’ve always loved the word covenant because it reminds me of a guide. But the words that speak volumes to me are “two people in the oneness of their spirit-inspired love”. It’s hard for two people sometimes to live together harmoniously separately, much striving for their spirits to be one. I think one thing we tend to forget at times is that you should not only love your spouse with all your heart and soul, but God as well (with equal intensity). I wonder if more people thought about it that way if there’d be less divorces. As always you’ve given us much to think about, and I thank you!

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  3. Loretta, the very point you make about how hard it can be to live harmoniously with another (frankly, for me, at times, that difficulty applies to my living with me!) is why I capitalize the “S” in Spirit-inspired. For I believe that if I rely on my human spirit, given my fundamental individual self-interest, I cannot and will not dwell harmoniously. Thus, when it is the Spirit or God’s Spirit who is the source of the inspiration, then I begin loving God first before I even attempt or, indeed, can love another (which also includes my loving me).

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