Signpost for Sunday 16 February 2014: Deut 30:15-20; Ps 119:1-8; 1 Cor 3:1-9: Matt 5:21-37
No wonder when we get to Matthew 5:21-37 some people start feeling uncomfortable: don’t even look at another woman (or man) and woe betide you if you’re divorced (27-31). The first two readings seem to be setting us up for exactly that kind of interpretation (Deut 30:16; Ps 119:1-8). And Paul’s letter to the Corinthians bangs on about the flesh before he gets to the point (1 Cor 3:1-3).
Once again, we hear with our twenty-first century lug holes when we need to listen with first century ears. This is Yeshua sticking up for women and having a go at the rabbis.
Of course all the rabbis were men and everyone who sought divorce was male too. Women just had to put up with whichever view of divorce their fella subscribed to, and it had been that way for hundreds of years. If your bloke was influenced by a rabbi from the school of Shammai, then he was only allowed to divorce you for inappropriate sexual activity (“some indecency,” Deut. 24:1). With a bit of luck he wouldn’t just make something up. But if you were unfortunate enough to be hitched to some rat bag who followed the teachings of rabbi Hillel, he was allowed to divorce you for any old reason and he didn’t even have to spell it out (“she finds no favour in his eyes,” Deut. 24:1). You could be biffed just because hubby was bored with you.
Yeshua wasn’t having a go at chaps who married divorced women, he was trying to shame the husbands who divorced them. And here it gets very first century because Jesus is saying something like, “If you won’t care about your wife, you better at least realise that you will be insulting your fellow man by forcing someone else in your community to marry a divorced woman.” A very un-PC argument but he’ll do anything to protect women against their husbands kicking them out simply because they had got fed up with them. Which apparently was not uncommon.
You probably knew all that, so apologies if so but it does seem to be something that people can get in a tizzy about these days. On which note, here’s an interesting version of how one divorced and remarried clergyman explains his personal situation to any conservative members of his congregation: David Ewart says that there’s a difference between a wedding and a marriage. A wedding is an event that marks a marriage and that event happens and then is over. A marriage is an ongoing relationship, and when that relationship is not something that God has sanctioned, then it can be broken. In other words, when people marry for the wrong reasons or when one or other partner stops working at the relationship, then it is no longer the God-sanctioned relationship that it was, hence divorce. God wants a marriage in which two people respect and care for each other. When that has disintegrated or never existed in the first place, divorce is not wrong, he says.
I think he’s making a point I found made elsewhere on the web this week by someone called Amy Oden: “During Epiphany, we proclaim that the “Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14), the Word embedded in real, everyday life, in outward actions and inward attitudes. We proclaim a God present in the flesh and bone of our lives, not a keeper of check-lists.’