31 "It was also said, "Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' 32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Matthew 5:31-32
Divorce. How do you speak about divorce in today’s world while honoring Jesus and honoring ourselves. So here I am a divorced female pastor working on Matthew 5:31-32. Moses, the law, allowed for divorce if you followed the correct procedures. Very similar to the laws found today in the US. If you want a divorce there is nothing legally stopping you as long as you follow the correct steps and fill out the correct paperwork. We see Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather, begin this process.
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." Matthew 1:18-21.He was ready to quietly set Mary aside following the correct procedures of the law. But then and Angel intervened and stopped Joseph. So when Jesus begins speaking about divorce in Matthew he is reminded that his own stepfather almost divorced his mother. Joseph had thought Mary committed adultery. Granted adultery with God, but adultery nonetheless. Jesus has looked around at the law and says I am going to push you farther. Divorce is only granted on the grounds of adultery. Jesus is saying as my followers, as people of the way, I expect more from you. If you partner has not cheated on you, there is no cause for divorce. So unfaithfulness, unchastity according to Matthew is the only reason a divorce would be acceptable. So Joseph’s actions according to Jesus’ revision of the law would have been acceptable.
So what do we do with this. What about women or men who are being abused. Granted Jesus was in his day protecting those who would be vulnerable. When a woman was divorced she would have lost everything: house, children, property, money… And still today the standard of living of women and children goes down and the standard of living of the man goes up.
In my own personal story I fulfill the letter of the new law. My son’s father came home from being at grad school for the summer and said (Just after President Clinton told us about Monica Lewinsky, seriously, right after the speech from the oval office) I met someone…I love her…I don’t love you…I never loved you…(all the words I hear when others tell me, the pastor about their divorce). So did I meet the letter of the new law? Sure my son’s father broke his promises to me. But in my story I don’t know where God was in the process. I prayed but I don’t know that I knew what to ask for. I don’t know that I knew what I wanted. But personally I was growing closer in my personal walk with God. The night that I experienced God’s presence in the process was the night before we were to go to court and meet with the court appointed mediators. I was worried and scared. I had joined a women’s bible study that had been providing me with support. One of the women had talked about turning to the scriptures and allowing God to speak to you through them. So that night while tossing and turning, I prayed to God, with sighs to deep for words. And when I open my bible (the new study version I had gotten for seminary), there was the weirdest section I hadn’t expected. Part of me was hoping for a passage about smiting my enemies. Part of me was dreading hear Jesus say don’t get divorced. But my bible fell open to a section of the Old Testament where Solomon was building the temple. This section is full of measurements. You learn the dimensions of everything from curtains, to walls, and floors. In the NRSV Bible the unit of measure is cubits. What I read for page after page was reed. Build the wall so many reeds long, so many reeds tall. Measurement after measurement was reed. Reed is the name of my son. So in my asking for what I should do, the answer back was Reed.
But God knows, I worry. The next morning we have to get up early and drop my son off at preschool early. I get him settled and hop on the highway to get to the other side of the state. I am in Ashford, CT and court is in Greenwich, CT. So I have a major drive to make it by 10. I set out before rush hour into Hartford would begin. I get on the highway and there is a traffic jam. The speed has slowed to a crawl going up over this hill. I am saying not nice things about the driver that caused an accident. As I pulled up over the hill, there is the most beautiful rainbow I have ever seen. “After the storm, all the colors come out.” The colors were so pure. I was heading east at that point and after passing the rainbow, I turned south. As I turned south, there was another rainbow. I turned east again and there was a third rainbow. Rainbow after rainbow, color after color, beauty after beauty, peace after the storm, calm in the midst of turmoil, hope in the midst of pain. The divorce still happened, but the colors had begun to come out.