June 03, 2015

Matthew 5.31-32

It was also said, "Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce."

But I say to you, that whoever divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.


This made sense in 1st Century Judea, where the social and economic situation of a divorced woman was worse even than in our times. Church efforts to enforce it legalistically, of course, have been a cruel disaster (and sometimes farcical, as in US States where people were sometimes driven to fake an affair just to escape a bad marriage.)

There was also the fact that divorces exacerbated tensions within families and tended to break up communities. [One private suspicion... When I used to ask 'Why did our Meeting split off from ___?' I'd be told that our Meeting had been organized for the convenience of a group of people living closer to here. But it looks like one of our members had married a woman divorced by one of their members, around that time... and since then, having two Meetings in the same town has made it easier for formerly-married couples to both attend Meeting without having old wounds rubbed.]

Anyway, in current times, is this still relevant to making our way more closely under God's wing...? as seems to be the purpose of these pronouncements?

With courtship behavior & close physical contact, there is a serious risk that close emotional bonds will form. Quite apart from any sort of ceremony, tearing oneself away from such a bond can leave a life-long, unresolvable pain.

Aside from that, such a connection feels risky, no matter how much a person will want exactly that, when it's worked out badly for them or for their parents in the past.

'How this has worked out', in modern times, will often include experience of divorce. But there are also the horrors experienced by and perpetrated by couples who 'stay together for the sake of the children. So far as children are estranged from their parents -- as is probably typical these days -- they will tend to recreate their situation, whether by choosing partners too much like or too much unlike whatever they're used to.

People are also often attracted to potential partners who embody qualities they lack. That can make for a very practical alliance, in which 'Both of us together add up to one competent human being' [as my wife sometimes puts it], but it can also make for serious conflict.

When someone lacks a quality, there's a very good chance he's been suppressing it in his own personality. He may initially be impressed to see the other person expressing this so freely -- yet over time, start sniping at its manifestations in them. Divorce and escape from that kind of relationship can make for a glorious feeling of liberation (as I found when my first wife kicked me out.)

But unless something more significant changes, then [as Fred Neil used to sing] "Same thing gonna happen again, cause that's the bag I'm in!"

Any rule about this, with people as we are today -- needs to be interpreted as Jesus interpreted the Sabbath rules, in light of the fact that the rules are made for our sake, not the other way around.

There is nothing better than having blundered-and-been-led at long last into marriage to the right person! But my ideas, about what 'this right person' should be like, turned out mistaken in many ways. Leaving my first love, because she hadn't matched those ideas, was a terrible mistake, leading to my first marriage to a good woman (a horrible mismatch!) -- which then led, eventually, to that 'right person'. Life and love transcend anyone's rules... but the spirit behind them can guide us in each specific case.


At 9:55 p.m., Blogger Jim Schultz said...

Here's the best I can do at this point. You have to take the verse in question as part of the several chapters which are referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. In that sermon Jesus says he has come to fulfill the law and not destroy it. I believe the purpose of the Law as given to Moses was to provide access to God. Jesus' position was that he fulfilled the law by providing that access to God by faith. In other words your relationship with God was no longer dependent on the law but on faith in God's love for you. All the examples showing how we rationalize not breaking the law when we do what we want are superficial at best are meant to show us living by faith and not by sight is the way to go if access to the Father is our goal.

At 12:16 a.m., Blogger forrest said...

That's Paul, not Jesus.

Now you can rightly say that Paul probably had direct spiritual access to Jesus, but then so do we, I think -- and there are signs throughout Paul's writings that he, like us, also needed to work things out for himself.

James [ie Jesus' brother] writes at least one letter from the Jerusalem church precisely to counteract what he considers to be Paul's misleading influence against proper Jewish behavior -- a letter which Martin Luther (naturally!) didn't think should have been included in the Bible, but which George Fox (despite considerable reverence for Paul's ideas re 'how to run a church') took very seriously.

You're right that this Sermon needs to be considered as a whole -- but you should consider that it's being written down (years later) from a body of tradition which people had been continually reinterpreting so as to apply it to their particular local situations.

In the case of Matthew, that situation probably includes iffy relations with Jewish groups who don't interpret Torah in the same way Jesus did, and who therefore consider the sect of Jesus' followers insufficiently observant. Precisely what Jesus said about 'The Law' in general is probably not recoverable, except by implication from the way he applied it in particular cases (in a very similar spirit to that of Hillel's followers, though maybe significantly different in how they each conceived of its role.) The version practiced in Galilee had not been the same as that of Jerusalem, though supporters of the Jerusalem tradition had been trying to impose that on Galilee for some 100 years by then.

Anyway, we do agree that Jesus is talking about how to take refuge under God's jurisdiction, and to remain in that condition. I think that's what 'Kingdom of God' implied: that Israelites could come under God's direct rule and enjoy the blessings promised their ancestors.

Everyone with open eyes has seen our secular laws used to deny some people their rights as human beings, while letting other people get away with murder (sometimes literally.) So Jesus can be taken here as saying that that kind of reading isn't going to render anyone fit for contact with God.

I don't find him saying that 'doing what we want' is the problem. Heedlessness of how that impacts people -- that's what the Law was designed to prevent; and it doesn't do the job when people's observance gets mechanical. Hillel would have agreed.

How can a person live safely and harmlessly when he does have access to God, when anything he asks could potentially move mountains? I'm inclined to think that the real intention of this Sermon is to try to answer that question.


At 8:55 a.m., Blogger Jim Schultz said...

Paul is just elaborating what Jesus said over the course of His ministry. There are many scriptures where Jesus is quoted in ways that support what I attribute to Him. The Kingdom of God is within. Jesus is saying that we need more than the outward righteousness of the Pharisees and that He is the way to that righteousness. I don't have to consider that the scriptures were tampered with to know that I could never be 100% pure in this Flesh but that thankfully I don't have to be because God loves me just as I am. In love as usual.

At 10:27 a.m., Blogger forrest said...

Paul is just elaborating and we are just elaborating and the gospels weren't so much 'tampered with' as they were always carried by groups of people who'd understood what Jesus meant and how he said it in slightly different ways. [An old Hungarian guy in my Meeting used to misquote the Bible a lot -- but now I wonder: How much of that was from remembering a Hungarian translation?]

Anyway, you've given me a slightly better handle on "Don't think I've come to throw out the Torah and the prophets" --

The message was never "You don't need this stuff!" nor was it ever "If you violate these regulations, God will make you wish you hadn't!" It seems to be more along the lines of: 'This is how God sees these things.'

So if you really want God's rule to be overtly established over you and yours, you'll try to think and act in line with God's perspective. The Torah was one approximation of that; and this is a closer one.

I've found Jesus and his words to be a good, solid influence that helped keep me from being and doing a whole lot worse. Some people find him himself, palpably present in situations like Meeting for Worship or in times they really need/want a comfort or a nudge. (Anthony Bloom's experience of reading Mark, for example -- You know that story?)

And I don't. I've always read Jesus as saying we should use what he's saying as a pointer to finding God directly... while other people meet him as a sort of guru. (while God as I've come to know Hmr does 'look' a whole lot similar!)

"100% pure"? Arrgh, 'Fish don't swim where the water is too pure!'

At 1:51 p.m., Blogger Daniel Wilcox said...

forrest, you wrote: "How can a person live safely and harmlessly...I'm inclined to think that the real intention of this Sermon is to try to answer that question."

I would disagree. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is contrasting transcendent/essential/spiritual values (whatever you want to term them)
with formal religious, political, legal, and social wrongs.

Matthew 5: 31-32 But I say to you, that whoever divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Back then, divorce was supposedly easy for Jewish men, almost flippant. Allegedly, a man could divorce his wife for poor cooking.

Modern divorces (and the troubled marriages) that I've known about were never "easy." There was so much heartache, harm, and suffering.
Sounds like your experience was very hard. I'm not commenting on your specific tragedy, but trying to discern what is the truth.

Divorce is way too common again at present. Supposedly almost half of all marriages end in divorce. The present very high divorce among religious people is especially disconcerting.

It seems to me that the ideal (the message of the S.M.) is life-long commitment--two are to become 'one,' even though sometimes that seems impossible.

At 6:06 p.m., Blogger forrest said...

Actually that part [about 'two become one'] is from a different passage. The hot gossip issue of the time, of course, was the current Herodian ruler forcing his brother to divorce his politically-connected wife so as to marry her himself. John the Baptist really lost his head over that one.

Much depends on how 'real' a marriage (or 'significant-other-dom') was. With me, cutting myself off from my first love was indeed tragically wrong and painful. My subsequent marriage was an attack of bad karma (though we had some good times together) and the divorce was a relief.

My wife Anne, on another hand, has been sheer grace! But both of us had been married before; so it seems that not all marriages are what that was meant to be.

Elsewhere Jesus talks about 'hardness of heart' being a reason why divorce laws exist. I don't think he means the same thing that afflicted Pharaoh in the Exodus stories, but we do have a sense what this feels like: It comes of being 'traumatized.' That doesn't have to mean having some awful person inflict an atrocity on a child; circumstances beyond human control can really derail a kid at a critical age, and make it very very difficult to ever trust close emotional connections with another human being, can even make him go out of his way to flee from them [ http://www.sneezingflower.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-self-disclosure-of-god-and-me-i.html ]

While I agree that the prevalence of divorce is a human tragedy, I think we've got to look at the fact that this society has gotten meaner and stingier towards its members since the 60's, making for intense economic and psychological pressures against people holding together. To consider it a miracle there are as many marriages surviving and remaining a blessing as there are.

Different kinds of "Values"? More, I think, like what Jim got me thinking a few comments ago -- That if you want to live your life within God's guidance & power, you'll need to see life more from God's perspective. In that context you can see the Torah as a step in that direction; and this passage also.


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