Earlier this year, we read the gospel of Mark’s account of John the Baptist’s imprisonment and beheading for speaking out against the marriage between Herod and his brother’s ex-wife. In this Sunday’s reading, (Mark 10:2-16) the Pharisees approach Jesus to trap him by testing his views on the legal right to divorce one’s wife. Perhaps, they were anticipating that Jesus’ opinion would lead him into Herod’s hands to suffer the same fate as John.
The Pharisees knew that the laws of Moses permitted a husband to divorce his wife. They were also aware of the ongoing debate over the “right” grounds for divorce. Some said divorce should be granted only in the case of adultery. Others said divorce ought to be granted for no cause, while still others thought that divorce should be granted only when there were some objectionable grounds. They wanted to hear Jesus’ stand on the issue. But Jesus takes the higher road. He reframes the divorce debate into the context of God’s design for marriage from the beginning of creation. God’s original intent was for marriage to be a lifelong bond of unity, love, mutual dependence, and mutual honor. This intimate bond would grow so deeply that “the two shall become one flesh.” Marriage in God’s divine plan was a deeply spiritual union expressed outwardly in the physical union. The mystery of the spiritual union is powerfully intense as God designed it to symbolize the enduring love between Christ and us, members of the Church, His body.
Since God forged the union of marriage for the higher purpose of building communities of love, God calls believers to strive for higher standards. In the case of marriage, standards that exceed Moses’ law permitted divorce due to the waywardness of people. This higher standard is the ideal of faithfully persevering in our relationships, just as Christ perseveres in loving us even when we turn from Him. “Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” God’s standard of love, mercy, and faithfulness trumps the legality of divorce. God’s concern is for our spirits to be knitted together in God’s will.
We are not told the Pharisees’ reaction to Jesus’ teaching, but we discern that God’s focus is relationships; us living in union with Him; us living in relationships of love and mutual respect. We draw closer to God’s way of life when we approach Him like humble children and transcend our world’s legalistic view of what is “right’. May we “set our hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” Amen.