When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he cured them there. Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?’ He answered, ‘Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female”, and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?’ He said to them, ‘It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but at the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.’ His disciples said to him, ‘If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.’ But he said to them, ‘Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.’
Regarding matters of marriage and family I confess to wearing conservative colours. I grew up in a “progressive and open” family environment of the 1970s and 80s. My parents held secondary relationships outside of the family unit. There was little married bliss and us children were deeply scarred by fighting, jealousy, and the general instability of this upbringing – which inevitably imploded. My brother and I eventually chose a different model of relationship that was better for our mental health.
I remember my parents meeting after years apart; the alienation between them was so pronounced they could have come from different planets.
We are all on journeys, including the cultural norms around us. The model of marriage in Jesus’ day has evolved over the centuries. But at its core marriage tells a story that is encompassed by relationships, rituals, and mythology. Jesus quotes Genesis 1.27 showing how woman and man are created in the image of God. The connection of this to marriage, further implying that “two becoming one flesh”, demonstrates that marriage also projects the image of God.
Jesus’ description of marriage is that of a journey. A child eventually leaves the nest and travels until they find a companion for life , forming a new travelling relationship. I find this idea or journeying ideal for today’s fluid and diverse society. We’re all on different roads with different experiences of family and relationship. For many of us embracing such an exclusive relationship might be painful. Jesus seems to imply wiggle room regarding the “burden” of this commitment, although he distances himself from Moses’ teaching regarding divorce. Other roads are open to us.
But please can I conclude with this point. Jesus’ victory over sin primarily ends one thing – alienation. It ends the alienation between ourselves and the divine, between each other, and within our own tortured inner lives. The rites, rituals and mythology of marriage should always tell this story. Marriage is a journey that should be lived out in a manner that seeks to end alienation, rather than exasperating it. Two people’s lives become so intertwined that they choose to identify as “one flesh” – for this reflects the image of God.
Gracious God, thank you that you seek to end the alienation that damages and divides us all. All healthy relationships project the image of the Three-in-One God who lives in perfect unity. This is no less true of marriage. May we seek to preserve this institution and relationship which, at its best, seeks to end alienation by bringing two people together as “one flesh”. May we resist social pressures and legislation to deconstruct or relativise it. May we also have compassion and mercy for those who have been hurt by marriage or stigmatised by it. In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Daniel Harris, Community Minister with the Rochdale, Bury & North Manchester Missional Partnership.