I have a book on my bookshelf that I inherited from my Dad, called ‘The Hard Sayings of Jesus.’ Even though we like to fit Jesus into the ‘Gentle Jesus Meek and Mild’ mould, because that feels convenient and easy, these hard words of Jesus can trouble and disturb our equilibrium. Today’s Gospel is hard because it tackles the way we deal with relationships. Prompted by the Pharisees’ question about divorce, Jesus shows us God’s standard for how we should deal with one another. But the problem is that it’s a plan for perfect living, that has to be lived out by imperfect, broken people.
Divorce is understandable, and sometimes in our broken and human world, inevitable or even necessary. Many of us have experienced its pain. But when we start interpreting the law, or indeed Jesus’ words in a black and white way, we only see how impossible it is to live up to, and it can seem as if all is lost. Or is it? Because that’s where grace starts; when we realise how short we fall, we turn to grace and find it in abundance. The poet John Donne said in a sermon, that when we’re sad because we fail, then it’s a holy sadness, because it’s ‘God’s key to the door of his mercy, put into thy hand.’ Yet how different could it be if, even in this most extreme of human circumstances, the break-up of a relationship, we were to show mercy and grace to one another, dealing with one another as God would deal with us. Although the end of a marriage is in itself painful and sad, it can be magnified in its pain by betrayal, injustice and malicious behaviour.
Jesus follows these seemingly harsh comments by holding before his accusers a little child. Once again, a vulnerable child becomes the standard of justice. If care for the vulnerable is a priority, then how much more should these Pharisees show mercy to their discarded wives who were left without care, protection or even money in a divorce. A faulty understanding of Jesus’ teaching on divorce cannot be used to overturn this basic principle. Our living in the world at all levels and even most importantly in our closest relationships is to be based on justice and mercy. It is not an option but an absolute mandate for Christian living.
In Peace, Mother Lynda