This week’s scripture within the Sermon on the Mount series doesn’t get any easier.
Matthew 5:27-37 speaks about adultery, divorce and oaths in that order. Would you like to skip straight to the oaths?
The passage on adultery is very difficult because it almost reminds one of the Thought Police from George Orwell’s 1984. However, the difference here is that the church is not given the responsibility to police the members but it seems to be a self-policing that Jesus is asking us to do.
The passage on divorce is also difficult because the church has been the morality police on this issue for a long time. Unfortunately, that may not have been the intention for Jesus when he gave us these words. At that time, women had no power to divorce. And so this prohibition was actually a balancing of power in the marriage relationship.
When we think of divorce today, we certainly don’t advise people to remain in an abusive relationship. It is also important to understand that it takes two to make any covenant work. If one of the married partners decides that the relationship is over, the other person cannot make them take the marriage seriously.
In marriage counseling, one of my most heart-breaking situations is visiting with a couple when one of the two is already checked out. Many times people are looking to justify their impending divorce. I hear things like:
“I don’t love my spouse anymore,” and “I’m not in love with my spouse anymore.”
Both are telling. The first sentence shows a reality concerning their action. I am not actively loving my spouse at this time. This may or may not be resolved. One may say, “Okay, we’re done here” or one may say, “What if I began to actively love my spouse again?”
The second sentence is more about a state of being usually concerning how I feel about my spouse. Feelings change in marital relationships all the time. Sometimes we do feel “in love” with our spouse and sometimes we don’t. Yet we remain in covenant and pursue the relationship until we can discover a deeper sense of what love really means.
Sometimes people are really asking, “How can I get out of my marriage covenant and will you bless my breaking it?”
If some kind of abuse is not involved (of which there are many kinds), this may reflect the idea that, “I didn’t really mean the whole ‘for worse’ part.”
We seek for marriages to work through tough times and flourish in ways people don’t always see as possible.
At the same time, I am a compassionate, forgiving Christian. If someone comes to us who is divorced, I don’t ask any probing questions as if they need to complete a quiz in order to insure that they were divorced for the right grounds.
It would be as if I were saying, “I just want to make sure you’re the victim here. I know you’ve gone through a lot so a little more humiliation at my hands won’t make much of a difference, will it?”
While the church has never stated this so explicitly, I believe that we may have implicitly given off this attitude. People who have needed the grace and healing of God the most may not have felt welcome.
That’s what makes this such a tough passage.
We want to teach our people that our vows are important and to hold fast to them.
At the same time, we want to welcome each person with dignity, treating all as first class citizens in the Reign of God.
We’ll continue to wrestle with this on Sunday during morning worship. If you can’t join us or live stream our church’s Facebook feed, you can find the sermon under our Facebook videos for later viewing. We would love feedback in the form of comments or questions on this as faith is a community effort! If you are struggling in your marriage, we invite you to contact our church. We would like to help.
To read more from Sam, visit http://precedinggrace.blogspot.com.
Photo via Flickr.com, used under the Creative Commons license.