Some Pharisees approached Jesus, and tested him, saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever” (Mt 19:3)?
The question about divorce came from an already existing debate within Jewish circles of interpretation and schools of thought. Testing Jesus arose from time to time to better understand who he would side with. Regarding the issue of divorce, there was a range of interpretations. On one end of the spectrum there was the School of Shammai, which permitted divorce only in the event of some sexual misconduct. At the other end of the spectrum was the School of Hillel, which would allow a man to divorce his wife if she cooked a bad meal (cf. Harrington 2007, 275).
The Pharisees sought to understand the perspective of Jesus in this debate. Jesus responded: “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator 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'” (Mt 19:4-5)? This response negated both schools as well as rejected the precept that Moses set who allowed divorce, explaining that, “from the beginning it was not so” (Mt 19:8). Jesus’ defense went back to God’s original intent recorded in the Book of Genesis, which allowed no provision for divorce.
In God’s plan, marriage is a covenantal relationship, as is the relationship between God and his people. A covenant is a sacred bond that is not to be broken. In marriage, a man and a woman giving themselves to one another and being open to a child as the fruit of their union mirrors the Trinity, where the Father and the Son give and receive themselves to one another. The love between the two is the Holy Spirit. This union also represents the communion between God and his people. The ideal of marriage then is to be a lifelong commitment; for God does not break his covenant with us, nor should we. The goal is clear, yet we live in a fallen world and we do not often live up to what God has planned for us.
For many reasons there are times where a marriage does not work as intended, but that does not mean we are to give up on marriage. Even though Jesus holds the standard high, he does not abandon us when we ourselves fall. He is present in our brokenness, and fallibility. He reminds us: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Mk 2:17).
It is right to keep our goals high and resist the temptation to settle for anything less than what God has in store for us, which is a covenant relationship with himself. We need to provide education, support, modeling, and mentoring so to remain faithful to one another and to God. And when a relationship breaks down, we need to walk with those who suffer through the pain of the rupture.
Jesus does not abandon us, nor should we abandon each another. We are a broken people seeking healing and reconciliation in so many areas of our lives. May we strive to be aware of each other’s needs, support and encourage one other as we seek to be faithful to our covenant relationship with our God who knows and loves us more than we can ever mess up.