Those Whom God Has Joined Together

October 25, 2009
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Mark 10:2-12

Wanting To Test Jesus

1. The Pharisees came up to Jesus and asked him, "Is it lawful for a husband to divorce [his] wife?" Is divorce permitted [in the Bible]? Or is it prohibited? That's the point of discussion. Did they come with a request for teaching? No, they did not. The scripture says, "They wanted to test Jesus." It was clearly a question based on ill will through which they would draw him into an argument regarding the law and if things went their way, they would trap him with a slip of the tongue.

2. "Is it lawful for a husband to divorce [his] wife?" At the background to this question is a controversy concerned with a statement recorded in the Old Testament. Those words go like this: "A man takes a wife, and after he becomes her husband, and when he discovers some shameful act with the wife, and he is no longer pleased with her, he writes a bill of divorce and hands it to her, and makes her leave the house," (Deuteronomy 24:1). It is a regulation regarding the procedure for divorce. The issue is some kind of "shameful act."

3. The prominent rabbi Shammai and his disciples held that what "the shameful act" corresponded to was the sin of adultery. When a woman committed the sin of adultery, [a man] could get a divorce. Except for that, one could not [divorce]. In contrast to that, the other prominent rabbi Hillel and his disciples had adopted a more liberal position. Many different conditions could constitute "a shameful act." For example, they argued that burning food, or having a bad appearance, or anything along those lines was just grounds for divorce. Do you think, "What a cruel practice!?" But it was a most serious matter of controversy back in that time.

4. It was the plan of the Pharisees, by having asked this question, to drag Jesus into that controversy. However, in reply to that question, Jesus did not answer directly, but instead he asked them back a question. "What did Moses command you?" They answer, "Moses permitted one to write a bill of divorce and to divorce." That is verse one from chapter twenty-four of Deuteronomy which I just read to you.

5. Whereupon, Jesus said the following. "Since your hearts are stubborn, Moses wrote this type of law." And then he quoted another statement written in the book of the law. They are the words recorded in chapters one and two of the book of Genesis. Summarizing it, Jesus states, "However, since the beginning of the creation of the heavens and the earth, God had made humans man and woman. Therefore, a man will leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one body. Thus, the two are no longer separate, but are one." And he said, "Therefore, a man must not separate that which God has joined together."

6. Jesus was not about to join in the debate on divorce by entering the same forum with them. In regard to the words from Deuteronomy which the Pharisees had brought up, he rejects them by saying "Since your hearts are stubborn, Moses wrote this type of law." And instead of [speaking on] the controversy about "Under what conditions is divorce permitted?," Jesus gave the lesson, "In the first place, what is marriage?"

7. "From a dispute on divorce to a lesson on marriage." I would like for us to think about what Jesus is doing in this text. The important thing in this text is not merely a speech on marriage and divorce. It is this: Do we put ourselves in the same world as those Pharisees, which is symbolized by "the debate on divorce?" Or, do we put ourselves in the world of Jesus, which is symbolized by "the message on marriage", which Jesus gives here? Let's try to look together at what the differences are between them.

The World Symbolized By The Debate On Divorce

8. To begin with, why is a debate about "Is divorce permitted?" or "When is divorce permitted?" even taking place? The reason is there are people who want to divorce. Incidentally, in their question more is found than just "a husband divorcing a wife." It has at its background the time period of male domination over women, when cases of a wife divorcing a husband would not be possible at all. It is very different from today. In that day and time, extremely selfish divorces, based on the convenience of the husband, would take place. Furthermore, many a man considered this his just due. For example, there were men who wanted to divorce just because she cooked the food too long. There were men who wanted to divorce just because they saw a woman more beautiful than their own wives. Thus, these debates, on the interpretation of the law on whether divorce is permitted or not, did take place. If there weren't men like that, then these debates wouldn't be held. In short, these human feelings of "I want a divorce" are present. Since [people] like that will always be there, [people] will try to justify these feelings and will try to drag in the Bible. So, debates will take place. Debates over interpretations of the law, "God does not prohibit this act. You are not stuck by this law," will take place.

9. Since we have thoughts like that before us, and not just limiting this to the question of divorce, but don't you think it happens a number of times, that we try to use the scriptures to justify these thoughts and feelings of ours? And when we want to find justification by using the scriptures, for whatever the situation, a lot of times, we will.

10. For example, let's try to think about the words from Deuteronomy that I quoted just ago. Jesus said, "Since your hearts are stubborn, Moses wrote this type of law." It was, in fact, that way. This was not originally a law for granting a certificate for divorce. The Lord said, "Since your hearts are stubborn." To say that "the heart is stubborn" means that they refused to repent. The divorce problem emerged out of this kind of male selfishness. Wives must be protected from this kind of divorce. For that reason it came to be that a divorce could not be had unless the man submitted a bill of divorcement in which he accurately recorded the reason. From the start, this has been the original meaning of the law from Moses. However, even this law, when they would use it, would be used many a time to legalize a selfish divorce as per the method of interpretation.

11. It's not that they didn't put a high importance on the law. They were serious about trying to establish a day to day life in which they observed the law to every nook and cranny of their lives. They took pride in keeping the law. In that sense they took pride in living righteously. But for those with an overly high opinion of how they are living righteously, justifying one's actions happens easily. They will insist "This is the right thing," by giving all kinds of reasons, even though what fundamentally came forth [out of them] is based on selfish wants and whims. Or possibly, they will insist "This is the right thing," by giving all kinds of reasons, even though what came forth out of them is hatred, hostility, and jealousy. At times they may even mention the name of God and insist "This is right. I am doing the right thing."

12. This is the world symbolized by "the debate on divorce." But, to put oneself in that position is very unfortunate. To live that way is very disastrous because even though there are problems that we must solve we cannot solve them as long as we're like that. For, even though there we are as persons who must change, we cannot change as long as we're like that. For, still as our old selves, we will keep on living unchanged until who knows when.

Living In Response To God's Grace

13. We must not put ourselves in that position but rather in another place. Therefore, we must pay attention to the fact that Jesus pulled himself away from the debate on divorce in this text and gave a message on marriage. [He did that] because it is the world symbolized by "the story of marriage" where we ought to put ourselves.

14. As I touched upon earlier, Jesus is quoting from the words of Genesis chapters one and two. It is a section from the same book of the law. But Jesus' way of reading it goes in an entirely different direction. The Lord says, "Since the beginning of the creation of the heavens and the earth, God had made humans man and woman." "God" is present there. Before any acts from a human being, there is the act of God. There is something that God has done. This world itself in which we are already living is the marvelous work of God. It is a work from which God's love is overflowing, a work of God's grace. We are living in that. One manifestation of that is that there are men and there are women. Nor is this anything that humans have created. It is the marvelous work of God's grace.

15. And then it continues with "Therefore, a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one body." This sentence is found in Genesis chapter two. They are the words found a bit before in today's first reading. If you were a Jew you would know the kind of context these words came from. It comes after the story of when the first woman Eve was created from a part of Adam. In other words, the fact itself that Adam and Eve are in the Garden of Eden and that they met there is God's marvelous doing. Therefore, Jesus calls this "That which God has joined together." He says this is a marriage.

16. God's work of grace is present there. [Then] the human being's action is the response to that grace from God. The appropriate response to God's grace in "having joined them together" should turn out to be that "Man must not divorce." That's how Jesus put it.

17. But then on the other hand, there is the reality of a human being not responding to God's grace. The scripture calls that sin. There is the reality of sinful humanity. There is sin which by its nature [no one] can justify. And so, there are times in the real world where marriages end up broken. It could be through the husband's sin, or through the wife's sin, or as seen from God's eyes, through the sins of both. It is not just a story on marriage. In all things the entire world is not responding to God's grace. It is turning its back against God's grace and throwing it away by disdaining God's grace which began at the creation of the universe. Even though God is shinning [his] light, [the world] is not living in that light, but is shutting itself away from the light, and in it is the figure of the people walking in its darkness. This condition of the world surely must have been rendered visible by Jesus.

18. Notwithstanding, Jesus states of God's works that they [have been] "since the beginning of the creation of the universe." He states that God's work of grace [has been] present [both then and now]. And he is making a call to us that we are to live in response to God's grace. -- Because the work of God's grace continues. -- Because it hasn't stopped. -- Because God would never give up on this world or on us. The very life and existence of Jesus in and of itself, of this one who has spoken in regard to the work of God, is the work of God's grace. This would be completely revealed at the cross and in the resurrection.

19. The world of Jesus is symbolized by "the story on marriage." It is the world where we live turning our eyes to God's grace. We are to live turning our eyes and attention on this: God's grace is present, we are in God's works of grace, and not only in the work of the creation of the universe but we are in the work of salvation which has already been revealed. Jesus showed the world in which we are to live by responding to God's prevenient grace. [Yes, indeed, God always takes the first step of grace towards us and we must take the next step in response!]

20. Whenever we do see God's grace, we can also see our own sin which has not responded to that grace. We can also see the real world of reality which is not in accordance with God's will. Yet, we do not need to lose hope. As long as we do not justify ourselves, as long as we do not insist, "I have done what is right" and make all kinds of excuses, we can be changed. Repentance is also born out of that. Prayer, in which we ask for God's forgiveness, is also born out of that. We may find ourselves starting to earnestly ask for God's saving help. God's work does take place in the real world. God's marvelous works of setting free and healing do take place. In them then, a person can experience the process of being transformed. Not just us, but everybody around us can be transformed. This is the world symbolized in "the story on marriage." We must put ourselves in that very place.