Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:1-3
This morning, when the sun was still very low and the temperatures too, my Saturday morning men’s group picked up on the conversation around marriage. We’re working through Christ’s Sermon on the Mount and Jesus has some strong words about divorce.
It helps to remember that Jesus is offering up a long list of examples demonstrating how we as people can never even begin to keep “the law” to the extent that we put things right with God.
This can be troubling teaching. I remember a man at our first church – divorced and remarried – saying, “The preacher (it was Frank Beall) had better skip those verses, and he needs to keep his mouth shut about divorce!”
There is a lot of stuff people would rather just not talk about; but Rebekah and I have never supported the “pick and choose” approach to Bible study.
Several of the guys in my men’s groups have been married more than once. Do we just pretend Jesus didn’t say anything about this? Here is just one sample from the conversation.
- “They important thing,” I said at one point, “is not to need tidy, satisfying, ‘tie up all the loose ends and put a bow on it’ answers. Our calling is to be like Jacob, who literally wrestled with God. We need to be willing to wrestle with Jesus, wrestle with the scriptures, wrestle much more in our prayer life, and wrestle with one another too.”
- “But Jesus said marrying a divorced person is the same as committing adultery!” one of the men exclaimed.
- “And what does Jesus say a couple of verses before that?” I asked, rhetorically. “He says that talking harshly about someone is exactly the same as killing them! So where do we stand?”
Christ’s Teaching on the Mount is about us identifying both as (and this is where he started) “Poor in spirit” and “Blessed.” Jesus demonstrates our need for reconciliation with God and with one another, along with our complete inability to achieve this via rule-keeping. He offers example after example after example.
So the question remains, “So what?” What exactly is the good news, and why do we need to even try?
The good news is that where we are, today, in this particular moment, is exactly where Jesus offers grace in response to our humility. Interestingly, this is also exactly the place and time where God wants to intervene in our relationships. Our humility; his grace. Then our mutual humility, and our Christ-generated grace toward one another.
In New Testament times divorce left a woman without standing, without support, without prospect, without hope. Divorce was a social and economic death sentence.
Today Jesus invites each one of us into the kind of relationships that say something true about self-giving love, mercy, faithfulness, and commitment. And this leaves is with standing, with support, with hope, and so much more as Children of Promise. Jesus is a spiritual and practical invitation into life.
Jesus also pointed out that, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17).
Once we understand our need, Jesus is all about the invitation into grace, not the condemnation. He has already told us that though we are poor in spirit (because we are poor in spirit) we are still blessed. The challenge now – and this is true for all of us, married or not – is to live as if we have accepted the invitation and to live in the spirit and the practice of reconciliation.
It is here – in our commitments (especially Christian marriages) – that we have the opportunity to live out the Good News most convincingly.
In love, and (always) because of love – DEREK