Some Pharisees came, and to test [Jesus] they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘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.”
Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
A few weeks ago I was celebrating the marriage of one of my brothers on the shores of Lake Chelan dancing the night away. Both families came together, fully vaccinated of course, and watched and cried and celebrated the union of two very loving individuals. Marriage can be a very beautiful thing, the joining of two individuals who commit to one another in love and trust and hope.
That Genesis 2 passage that we first heard today teaches us that we, humans, are not meant to be alone. Marriage is a beautiful outflowing of that though it is not the only relationship that matters in terms of not being alone. We are given family and friends, colleagues and teams, we are even given animals and plants, all to tell us that we are not alone.
So why do the Pharisees come to Jesus in our gospel text today? Moses has given the Israelite men the authorization to get divorced in certain circumstances but the wording in Deuteronomy is not completely clear. We do know that divorce could be a dangerous thing to happen to a woman in those days. The woman could either return to her father’s house or try and make it on her own, often through the only allowed means of sex work. Both options were unfair and potentially dangerous for a woman. That is why Moses gave them that law, because it required the husband, if he insisted on divorce, to at least write a certificate of divorce so that she could potentially remarry and have some modicum of safety.
The way I read it, it seems that the Pharisees recognize that struggle and are coming to Jesus for some clarity on how they should be teaching it. Can they follow the law both faithfully and lovingly? Can they teach that it is okay to divorce in a way that keeps all people safe? The Pharisees are doing the best they can with the written words they’ve been given.
And you gotta love how Jesus responds so often to these questions on the law. Jesus does not point them to another law to explain it or try to convince them by arguing the original intent. Instead Jesus points to God’s vision of the world, all the way back in Genesis. Jesus points to the dream of the garden of Eden. A place where everything is in right relationship. A place where the ideal is being lived. And there Jesus points to how God created all people, how it is not good to be alone, and how to join ourselves together. A beautiful dream world. Sometimes that seems like the naive dream of little children who don’t fully understand our broken world where so often laws are needed to help order our life. But God insists on this dream, Jesus insists on this dream.
Whether it is the garden of Eden, the peaceful mountain of God, the kingdom of heaven, or the new heaven and new earth, we are given dream after dream of living in a world where we are in right relationship with God, ourselves, our neighbors, and all of creation. A dream of joining, of uniting, of togetherness, of mutuality. But as we grow, as the world hits us over and over, our hearts can be hardened as Jesus references here. Our hearts can close off to the love of God or neighbor. Our hearts can stop listening to other points of view and silo ourselves. Our hearts can stop engaging for fear of being hurt one more time. Our hearts can give up the vulnerability and dependence of real and right relationships.
But as I was reminded at my brother’s wedding, as I am reminded at many weddings, deep down we still believe and long for that dream world filled with love and joy. We can still open our hearts to one another. The dream that God has for our world is not an illusion or a fantasy but something we can join in and access right here, right now.
So I would invite you with all the love in my heart, to join me and us and God on this journey where we dream a beautiful world together and then we work to make it happen. You and me and your neighbor and the animals and the plants and God, all dreaming together and working to be in right relationship. Let us dream together. Let joy fill you. Let your imagination run wild. Let beauty fill your life.
And if you are rolling your eyes at me and my naivety, I completely understand. This is something I preach but I am actively working to live into it. I preach it because I have hope and trust that it can become reality, not that I am doing it perfectly. Our world is not perfect. It is broken. Divorce is still needed because we are not perfect. We are broken. And we will keep being broken and hurting one another. And. And at the same time, we can lean into God’s vision and try and we can change and we can grow and we can follow the Holy Spirit into dreaming and building a new world of heaven on earth, a world of right relationships.
And I think that is why this passage about marriage and divorce and Genesis is followed immediately by Jesus bringing the children to him. Jesus says, “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And I have to wonder if Jesus is saying that we need to turn off our cynical and skeptical minds every now and then. I wonder if Jesus is saying we have to remember to let our hearts be soft and open to love and joy. I wonder if Jesus is saying to let our imaginations run wild in dreaming, creating, and building the world as it is seen through our children’s eyes. Because in the hope and purity of belief from our children who have hopefully not yet been beaten down by the world. Children still dare to dream. Children still work to grow into who they want to be. Children still believe love conquers all. Do we?