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Tony's Reflection 78
Have you ever been to the Maldives? The closest I have been to this tropical island paradise is looking at a friend’s holiday snaps. Behind the blissful blue skies, the enticing sea and the warmth of the sun, there lurks a dark secret. Something painful and sad. You would think the islands would be a haven of happiness, but all is not as it seems. According to the
of the old Guinness Book of Records, the Maldives has the highest divorce rate in the world. More than both the next two countries (Belarus and the USA) put together.
In Jesus’ day, divorce was a hot potato. Think how controversial trans rights are now. How easily anyone from politicians to celebrity authors have quickly become embroiled in vicious recriminations for apparently innocent and obvious statements. Multiply the heat and acrimony of that debate several times over and you are coming close to how hot an issue divorce and remarriage was, back then. Especially in the territory where Jesus was during today’s episode (
Our scene begins with business as usual. Jesus is surrounded by a huge crowd. He is pouring out his heart, as he always does, teaching them. Every eye is fixed on him. Every ear finely tuned to every word he says.
Enter the Pharisees. They have been plotting for years about how to silence Jesus for good. As they sat in their murderous little cabal the evening before, they had relished how that firebrand rabble-rouser John the Baptist had got his just deserts for daring to criticise the divorce and remarriage of Herodias in the Royal family. Now, if they could trap Jesus into saying something similar, surely he wouldn’t last long.
The question would have to sound innocent. Something anyone would ask a Jewish religion teacher. Jesus usually had banter with his audience, when he was teaching. It would be easy enough to toss in a question about divorce. It was an explosive issue and they couldn’t wait to see it blow up in his face. All the better that it would be in front of a large crowd…
“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” they asked. Explosive primed, timer ticking…
Of course, they knew perfectly well what the law said. The legal experts asking a question about the ABC of the law?! Jesus smells a rat and turns the table.
“What did Moses command you?” Jesus asks. Quoting Moses was the big deal. God inspired him to write the first five books of the Old Testament, the foundation of the entire Jewish religion.
“He let us write a certificate of divorce,” they said. Textbook stuff, so far. Everyone there knew perfectly well what Moses had said. “Certificates of divorce” were very popular back then. You could hand one out to your wife if she wasn’t submissive enough. If her cooking wasn’t up to scratch. If you met someone prettier… write out the divorce certificate and off you go. You’re free.
Jesus wants to go deeper, though.
These divorce certificates weren’t meant as a legal entitlement, the moment you get tired of your wife.
“In fact,” says Jesus, “Moses only allowed them in the first place, because you are so hardhearted.” Divorce isn’t a right, it’s a last resort. A way out, but one you only take when hardheartedness means you can’t show each other the love that you owe.
Jesus then shifts the focus. Not on the rules for when marriage goes wrong, but on God’s heart for marriage, in the first place. When Jesus asked the Pharisees what Moses said, they had focused on the rules for when it goes wrong. In his first book, though, Genesis, Moses had a message from God on what marriage was really all about.
Jesus puts a revolutionary spin on Genesis. It wasn’t about the man being given a woman to continue his family line. In marriage, the Jesus way, it is the man who does the giving and moving. He leaves behind his mother and father for the sake of his wife.
“Once they “join together” in the wedding bed, they are bonded for life. God has joined them together. So let’s not have mere human beings daring to tear apart what God has put together.” In the safety of a private home, Jesus would spell out to his disciples just how horrific it is when human beings destroy what God has built. It’s like adultery. A capital offence, back then.
That’s the ideal. Marriage is for ever – “until death do us part”.
The crowd are in hushed awe. Far from focusing on the minutiae of the rules about divorce, Jesus has given them a breathtaking picture of something stunningly beautiful. The man, so often the stronger and exploiting partner, lays aside his ties and all he holds dear, so he can cherish and hold his wife, for ever.
Husbands who were listening glance at their wives. They remember once more what they left for their women. How it had been worth leaving it all, for her.
The wives glow inside. They feel valuable and cherished.
Quarrels fade as, husband to wife and wife to husband, hearts are softened.
The Pharisees are bitterly disappointed. Jesus has defused the explosive once again and worked something really special in everyone listening, as he did so. The Pharisees, though, will be back…
Is Jesus just a hopeless romantic?
It takes a lot more than sentiment and romance to make a marriage work. Jesus, himself, though, brings the power to love when the going is tough. In marriage. In any relationship.