a 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.” 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.
 See Deuteronomy 24.1-4