Summary: How to make sense out of ideals that are absolute and forgiveness that is complete when it comes to the issue of divorce.
If you were to go home and sit down to write the last chapter of your life, what would you write? Our lives are full of experiences, some good and some difficult. This morning, we gather as Christians, some having experienced divorce, and most all of us have parents, children, brothers, sisters, or friends who have become divorced. If we were to write a last chapter for our lives, would we write that we or they were divorced?
Why? I think it is because we believe in a God who takes broken lives and, through His mercy and forgiveness, He gives people new lives and new beginnings. In Christ all things are made new and are possible! In Christ we offer our lives to Him, and He can choose to use us to love others, lead others and share our faith stories with others, regardless of our past.
I will not try to assess the history of how Christians and churches have dealt with this passage on divorce. We can take a very hard line becoming judges without grace; we can take a hard line on divorce and then recognize failed relationships and give it another name where there is grace and new beginnings; or we can call divorce a failure of relationships, a failure to fully meet God’s ideal, but still offer complete forgiveness and the possibility of a new life and new relationships. The latter is how I think God relates to us. Total honesty. Total healing. Total forgiveness.
How then do we deal with this very harsh sounding passage from the Gospel of Mark? Is condemnation the only interpretation, or do we dismiss it completely?
Will Willimon comments, "When we think of Jesus, we are conditioned to think of him as loving, by which we mean Jesus is open, warm, and accepting, particularly toward us. In his book The American Religion, Harold Bloom claims that we Americans have one predominant faith and that is that God really, really likes us, that God is thrilled to be with us on any occasion, and that God couldn’t be happier with our moral progress. We’ve come a long way from Jonathan Edward’s sermon, "Sinner In the Hands of an Angry God." We are "basically good people in the embrace of a completely permissive God."(1)
This attitude is obviously a very permissive attitude that says what we do doesn’t matter. I don’t think that is right. On the other extreme is the view that says you break one law or certain laws and you are forever judged and limited in your worth and value to God. I don’t think either of these views represent the way that Jesus dealt with people, forgiveness and what life could become for them.
In our text in this tenth chapter of Mark Jesus voiced his profound concern for stable family life and for children. In Roman society, marriage had one purpose, to provide a legal heir who would inherit a man’s property. In Jewish society, men could divorce their wives for any reason, but wives had no such right without their husband’s consent. It is said that if a woman burned the toast or some other equally nit-picking complaint, that a man could divorce his wife. In vv.10-12, Jesus put women on an equal footing.