Why Knot? Part 2

Introduction – you don’t have to go far to find someone scared of marriage

It is not hard to find expressions of skepticism regarding marriage in contemporary culture. Recently read two very different novels. Sue Monk Kidd – The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd is a coming of age tale centered on the life of a fourteen year old girl. Almost all the characters in the novel are women of various ages. Most of them express some hesitancy about marriage either because it has not worked before, or it brought pain or and end to freedom. I also read Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Crossing. Unlike the Kidd novel this one is both written by a man and centered on the actions of men. And yet there were still characters who told the adolescent protagonist to avoid marriage. Like all good novelists, Kidd and McCarthy are just reflecting the views they see in the culture. While both narratives are set in earlier in the 20th century, the views reflect our world today. Many are skeptical of the commitment and necessity of marriage.
It is not uncommon to talk with 20-somethings who are in long stable relationships, living together and even starting families, who nonetheless are hesitant about marriage. Marriage, unlike living together, buying a house, or having a child, is considered “a big commitment.” I think one reason why young people today feel this way is the prevalence of divorce. Everyone has experienced divorce in some way and it is so common and yet so painful that many wonder if marriage is worth the risk.

Transition: we are not the first generation to think like this. Jesus addressed divorce more than once. At one point his disciples, when they understood the seriousness of marriage, wondered if perhaps marriage should be avoided. Today we want to look at what Jesus say about divorce both also what he says about marriage. We start in Matthew 5, the Sermon on the Mount.

Marriage is meant to be a union for life and not a temporary coupling.

Matthew 5
31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’[f] 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Jesus started his Sermon on the Mount by announcing the beatitudes and then called his disciples to be salt and light in the world. In this section Jesus directly addresses the understanding of the law in the larger, first century Jewish culture. He begins by saying “You have heard…” but then counters with “but I say to you.” Here he addresses divorce with the same shocking bluntness with which he talked about murder and adultery. He uses direct language to jolt people away from the postures of the rabbis to think again about the purpose of marriage.
At issue in the religious debates at the time was a phrase in Deuteronomy where Moses talks about a divorce happening because a husband found his wife “indent.” In the passage Moses is not talking about the grounds for divorce, but only how to protect a woman when her husband divorces her. He says to give her a certificate of divorce and never marry her again.

24 If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, 2 and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, 3 and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, 4 then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord. Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.

The rabbi’s disregarded the larger context and argued about the word “indecent.” Some said that it meant marital unfaithfulness, adultery. Other said no, a wife could be considered indecent for a number of reasons, some as trite as burning breakfast.
Jesus wipes away the whole discussion by saying divorce is always adultery because it breaks a covenant made before God. Remarriage is assumed in this context but it is not the remarriage, but the breaking of the first vow that makes the parties adulterous. But even more than that Jesus is reminding us that divorce is never the purpose of marriage. It is permitted for various reasons, but it should never be anything more than a necessary evil. We see this more clearly in Matthew 19 where some religious leaders try to drag Jesus into the divorce controversy assuming that he will look bad regardless of what stance he takes.

It is after this discussion that the disciples wondered if marriage was worth the risk. Look what it says in Matthew 19

Matthew 19

When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. 2 Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a] 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

The religious leaders want to know how Jesus will interpret the “indecent” passage in Deuteronomy. Can someone divorce his wife for “any and every reason?” When Jesus responds that God’s intent at creation was that “two would become one flesh” they figure they have him trapped. “If that is God’s intent,” they wonder “then why did he command…a certificate of divorce?” We can see that they have now made the Deuteronomy passage about commanding divorce. Jesus calls them out on this misreading saying that “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard.” But such a divorce was never God’s intent. Jesus calls such divorces what they are. When someone divorces his wife (this discussion was always from the male’s point of view since women could not divorce) in order to marry someone else, he is being unfaithful, even if there is a certificate involved. Jesus knew that these people and the ones back in Moses day, were just looking for an easy way to switch partners. There is a word for such a motivation and Jesus used it: adultery.

Transition: When the disciples understood the seriousness of the marriage commitment they could not help but wonder “should we get married? Jesus answers them.

Marriage is a picture of the value of the commitment to love and invest in another person.

Jesus acknowledges the disciples comment but says not everyone can live without being married. Using the term eunuch he says that some people cannot be married because of a physical disability, some are no longer sexual people because of trauma, and some choose to stay single for the kingdom of God.

11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

We should accept and respect those who either choose to live singly or must for one reason or another. But the question they asked was “should we get married.” It is clear from this answer that most people will want to get married because they are sexual people. God uses our sexual desire, our attraction to other people to draw us into relationship, but what he desires for us is much deeper than just a sexual partner. We get that from Jesus comments earlier in this passage:

4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a] 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

God’s desire for married people is that they become one flesh, to enter into an intensely open, caring, vulnerable relationship. For most people, marriage is the most transformative relationship they will ever be in. They will never be closer to one person for a longer time that in marriage. Marriage isn’t the only way you can learn to love someone unlike yourself, but for most people, it is the main way.
Men and women are different, and the obvious physical differences are only the beginning. Their brains act differently in different situations. They have different hormones and neuro-chemicals. This makes a heterosexual relationship a profound example of loving an “other.” And loving someone who is different from yourself is one of the most god-like things you can do.
One reason to marry is to experience oneness with another person.

Another reason to marry is expressed indirectly in the passage just after this controversy.

13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.
14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

While Jesus is teaching some people bring him children so he can pray for them. The disciples think the children are a distraction, but Jesus does not. He reminds us that the simple love and trust expressed by children is a picture of how we should respond to God. The adults think the children need to act like them, quiet, attentive, questioning. But the truth is the opposite. They, the adults, need to become like the children.
One of the reason to be married is to bring children into the world. When you start to love another in marriage you naturally want to share that love with others. Often that happens through pregnancy, but it can also happen through adoption or foster care. This extension of love and this investment in the next generation is also profoundly God-like.
This truth can be extended beyond marriage. When we make a commitment of love to another person we open up the possibility of real impact. Love and commitment together bring change. Love without commitment is just sentimentality. Commitment without love is just labor. But love and commitment together bring change, both in marriage and outside of marriage. And it is commitment that we fear much more than marriage. We need to get over our commitment to marry so we can experience the profound experience of oneness. But we also need to get over our fear of commitment in the church, in our neighborhood, in our schools. Real impact comes from commitment.

Conclusion: for some, stop being scared of marriage; for all stop being scared of commitment.
No one can commit to everything. But no one will make an impact without it. We each need to seek God to give us the courage to commit and the wisdom to know where that should be. As Christians we commit because Christ committed to us. God did not abandon us or leave us in our sin. He came to us. He made a commitment of love measured in his very life.