Genesis 2:18-25 / Proper 22B / 7 October 2012 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA
The way of faith is to receive the gifts as they come from God. The way of unbelief is to refuse them and look for loopholes to justify our refusal.
The Pharisees come to Jesus with a question to test Jesus. So you already know that the question is not an honest one. They want to corner Jesus, trap Him in His own words, get Him to take side, label Him a “liberal” or a “conservative.” “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” What kind of question is that, anyway? Why are you asking? Are you looking to dump your wife? Are you trying to justify yourself and your marital history? Are you trying to condemn someone else? Why would you ask such a thing?
Jesus answers the question with a question. “What did Moses command you?” That leaves a rather wide open field. Moses wrote the Torah – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Rather than quoting from Moses, Jesus invites the Pharisees to consult their own mental concordance and come up with the verse themselves. Which would they choose? Not surprisingly, they choose the loophole, the exception, the accommodation. “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”
Well, not exactly. What Moses did say was that if a man divorced his wife, and if he gave her a certificate of divorce, and if she went and married another man, and if he divorces her too, then she can’t go back to husband number one. Deuteronomy 24. It was an accommodation. “Because of the hardness of your hearts.” Hard hearts are unbelieving hearts. Unrepentant hearts. Hearts unwilling to receive the gifts of God, including the wife God has given you.
“Not so from the beginning,” Jesus says. Jesus trumps Moses with Moses. Deuteronomy with Genesis. The accommodating loophole with the gift. “But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” That’s what Moses said about husbands and wives in the beginning. Before there was sin. Before the Fall. Before Adam and Eve become self-absorbed, self-oriented, self-justifying rebels. Before the notion of divorce even existed.
And then Jesus adds His own personal clincher. “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Back to the original question. Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? Answer: No. They are one flesh by the word of God, and that cannot be undone. They may divorce, and Moses even accommodates and legislates their divorcing, but divorce is never lawful no matter what the circumstances. It may be tragically needful, it may be inevitable, it may not be possible even for two baptized children of God to put marital Humpty Dumpty back together again. But it is never lawful.
And that’s a good illustration of how the Law works. It always kills you. It always accuses you. It never lets you off the hook. Even when it grants you a loophole and accommodates the hardness of your heart, it loops around and bites you. Do you think you can justify your actions with the law? Think again. Do you think you can sit in judgment of another and not be judged yourself? Think again. Do you think you can somehow make up for things, make things right, atone for your sins, fashion your own righteousness at the expense of others? You’re dead wrong.
The disciples asked Jesus about all this privately, behind closed doors. They were clearly bothered by this. Troubled. And Jesus doesn’t pull any punches with them. Instead, he turns up the volume. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” That goes beyond Moses. Jesus just sealed Moses’ loophole shut. No divorce. No remarriage. Gifts refused. Hardened hearts. You remember how the vows go: Until death us do part. Death, not divorce, is what ends the one flesh of husband and wife. Anything else is adultery.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “But, pastor, you’re divorced and remarried.” Yup. And so are some of you. And some of your friends and family and neighbors and 50% of our society. And in case you are sitting there smugly with your happy marriage and thinking, “I thank God I’m not like those losers,” well, remember what Jesus said about that stray look and that adulterous thought. You’ve already committed adultery too. And maybe now it’s beginning to sink in just a little more about this fearsome Law that has no loopholes, that crushes the sin-hardened heart to pieces, that brooks no arguments or self-justifications.
One thing it means is that you can’t go around asking questions like “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” In fact, you are best off not asking “Is it lawful…” at all because if you have to ask, you already know the answer, and the Law is not going to help you.
Think about how far Sin has corrupted the good that God gives. Think about how Sin has dulled that joy that Adam spoke of when he first laid eyes on Eve and said, “Finally – bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” Think about how Sin takes the joy of the wedding day and turns it into a drudgery and weariness so that religious people can come up to Jesus looking for a reason to divorce their wives. That’s Sin at work in our old Adam who turned his back on his bride and left her alone and isolated, who pointed the accusing finger and blamed her for his own sin.
It’s played out in so many broken homes and in families just barely glued together. What a great and deep sadness it is, uprooting families, leaving children without father or mother. Husbands and wives, who are one flesh, at each other’s throats, looking for a way out. And even in homes that appear to be intact, there are the undercurrents of discontent, boredom, complacency, neglect, abuse. Affections alienated by pornography and dulled by alcohol and drugs. “It was not so from the beginning.” This is not the gift God had given.
In Ephesians chapter 5, St. Paul quotes this verse from Genesis, “that a man leaves father and mother and clings to his wife and the two become one flesh,” and he says a remarkable thing. This is about Christ and the church. That might not be immediately obvious on first reading. Or even second. This Adam and Eve thing is about Christ, the second Adam, and His Bride, the Church.
Here we see God in action, redeeming, restoring, raising up from the dead. Christ is the one who leaves Father and mother at the cross. He is forsaken by the Father, and He gives His mother to John. He leaves His Father and His mother in order to cling to His bride, the Church, who is created out of His own sacramentally wounded side in the water and the blood.
Marriage can’t save us. Marriage is not a means of grace; it is in dire need of grace. And marriage is not eternal. In the resurrection, we neither marry nor are we given in marriage. But there is a marriage that does save. There is a one flesh union that cannot be destroyed. The marriage of Christ and the Church. The union of Christ with His baptized believers. The communion of Christ with His communicants who share in His Body and Blood and so are one Body with Him Not sexually, as in our marriages. But sacramentally, in the one marriage that counts for eternity.
There, not in Moses, not in legalistic loopholes, not in the Law, is your hope and your certainty. In Christ and His marriage to His Church.
Our Gospel ends with little children. That’s kind of fitting since the little children always get the short end of the divorce stick. Parents were bringing little children to Jesus so that He might touch them in blessing. But the disciples rebuked these parents for bothering Jesus and for the fuss that these little ones were making. What on earth did Jesus want with children? What kind of messianic army could you assemble with infants?
But Jesus become indignant, downright angry, and lashed out as His disciples, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And He took them in His arms (they were very little children) and He blessed them, laying His hands on them.
It’s why we bring our babies to Baptism. That Jesus may touch them and bless them. Who would not want that for their children? But even more, the only ones in this whole reading who “get it” in the way of faith, the only ones who do not have some bargaining chip, some credential, some tidbit of self-justification are the little ones. The babies. Not the Pharisees. Not even the disciples. The babies. They are the picture of the kingdom of God.
It’s not that they’re sinless. It’s not that their “innocent.” It’s that they are utterly giveable to. Trusting their parents. They have to be carried, they can’t bring themselves. They receive it all as a gift. And Jesus takes them in His arms and He blesses them.
That’s rather humbling, isn’t it? We grown ups in all our sophistication and education and experience are being told that the way into the kingdom is very, very small. And we must become very, very small. As tiny babies. Newborns. I like to say that every Baptism is an infant baptism because in every Baptism, whether of a baby or an adult, a little one is born.
And in the littleness of faith, you receive the gifts from God the Giver – forgiveness, life, salvation, and all that He gives you in this life, including that one with whom you are one flesh, your wife, your husband, until death parts you. But death will never part you from the Lord.
In the name of Jesus,