“And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.” Genesis 2:22
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus embraced the children as a sign that God’s love has drawn near. This love draws near to us through the faces of our partners and friends. This love frees us to lift up the lowly and the brokenhearted. We are freed by love to live in love. What are we to do then when that love diminishes day by day and dies slowly right before our eyes? When does the phrase, “You are my beloved and I am his. As an apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among young men,” sound yes like anticipation and more like dread? Or what are we to do when we are simply mismatched with our partner and helper? I may be a young unmarried pastor with no kids, but my heart has learned much of love lost. And so has our Lord Jesus has learned much of love lost when he exclaimed, Jerusalem, Jerusalem…. How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling.”
So we are taken aback by Jesus’ response to the Pharisees. Pharisees had come in order to test Jesus’ own understanding on the limits of one’s union. Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? I.e. when can we gauge the ending of a relationship? Is adultery the end? Is any little reason the end? What exactly is it? Jesus responds to their quandary on the limits of marriage with a focus on the complexity of our human condition. He tells these men, “because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote this commandment for you.” Jesus essentially is saying, “because of our human condition, there is some freedom out of such conditions.” In a word, Jesus attempts to re-orient our focus on the quality of our heart and of our love. He is drawing our attention on the gifted quality of our partners when he says, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
In other words, Jesus proclaims that God is drawing us to encounter God’s grace through the face of our partners; or boyfriends, or our friends. He is not saying that in some way single folks are without this divine grace. Rather so, Martin Luther notes in his commentary on Genesis, “the person as the most beautiful creature is well provided for so far as their own person is concerned but still lacks something, namely, the gift of the increase and the blessing, because they are alone. We are not islands unto ourselves but we need others so that love may abound for us and through us. This is Jesus intent when he says, “So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” They are no longer alone but abide together in love. Love has drawn near to us through our helpers. And yet this gift itself is hidden by Jesus’ following statements: “Therefore what God had joined together, let no one separate,” and, “whoever divorces their spouse and marries another commits adultery.” These words leave us feeling as if Jesus’ grace in our most intimate relationship is conditional.
What then are we to do, Jesus? Is this the love that has drawn near to us? Is it better for us to abide in a relationship after all love has died, intimacy burnt out, positive regard gone or to acknowledge such a relationship as a gift for a time and a season? I’m not sure Jesus’ teaching on divorce answers this question. Marriage during Jesus’ time was purely contractual and not based off of a relational of mutual love and intimacy. Despite this limitation, Jesus shows us how our creator has made us to be drawn to love, albeit for a time and a season. In the Genesis text, the Lord God created humanity as a relationship; two helpers become a partnership. When he formed adam from the land (the Adamah), God made this observation: “I had called everything good and yet it is not good that the earthling should be alone. So I shall see if I can fashion a helper as partner from the very earth I made him.” And yet, from all these there was not an intimate partner for him. In other words, just because we are of different genders or that we are together does that make a relationship of intimacy and love. God has to play the game of Operation and take the very side of Adam, the bone of his bone. He has to form for him someone who actually understands him and gift to him his partner as a helper. In so doing, the partner exclaims, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” It is as if the man is saying, “Finally, I have found someone who understands me and loves me just as God loves; unconditionally and with grace.” Focus here is not on setting a condition on love itself but allowing for us to see our partners as gifts; gifts who are with us as long as God so binds us.
This does not mean that God binds us up to the point that we are oppressed by our partners or allows us to stay and be victimed by our partners. Or even stay mismatched in a relationship. How are those relationships in line with the love that so moved Adam to say, “This at least is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” Rather so, God binds us up with perfect love, the same love that God’s kingdom brings about. It is a love frees us from the death of relationships and allows us to look for all sorts of helpers in our lives; friends, partners, spouses, comrades. It is a love that embraces the most vulnerable and blesses them with life. It is a love that is bound us to the most vulnerable in society; children, the widowed, those in abusive relationships, whose who feel the shame of divorce. It is a love that frees us to receive our partners with all their imperfections as our helpers for a time and a season. What God has joined together, God has joined as blessing for a time and a season that we may abide in God’s love.