To which we might reply, “Yeah, well, he wasn’t married, was he?”
No, we don’t get to play that card. Jesus knew the human condition well enough, and no doubt had enough married friends to understand how challenging it is for two people to put their lives together for a lifetime. Yet he offers little grace in his teaching on divorce, he who was so forgiving of people who squandered their gifts in loose living, and even those who hoarded wealth and cheated others.
This is one reason it’s never advisable to “proof text,” to find one passage of scripture to back up a position. Chances are another passage will contradict it or provide a broader context in which multiple interpretations can thrive. I think there’s a reason Jesus said these things to his disciples in private rather than to the general public – perhaps he was holding up for those who were leaders, who represented his movement, an ideal standard which he knew people less committed to God-Life might not manage.
That’s a big, wild guess, of course, if a comforting notion. The truth is, I don’t know why Jesus said these things, and why he didn’t say them publicly. What I do know is that the Law is God-given and beautiful – and can crush the life out of us if misused. The Law (at least in abstract) is God’s pure gift, given to impure human vessels who cannot live it fully. This puts us in rather a bind, as Paul wrote about so movingly in Romans 7 (you might read 7 and 8 in full...)
Realizing we cannot meet the demands of God's Law can inspire different responses:
- We can give up, and toss it out altogether, living by our own instincts and reason.
- We can bear down harder, trying to legislate and control what the heart doesn’t seem capable of doing willingly.
- We can carry its standards in tension with the forgiveness of the loving and merciful God we’ve been taught to worship, and invite the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to help us live into it. Gee, which one do you think I favor?
Lawlessness leads to highly subjective ethics and often to licentiousness and heartache.
Legalism distorts God’s gift and focuses us on penalties, and then we lose sight of the Spirit and often find ourselves trying to control other people’s behavior more than our own.
Living in the light of God’s amazing grace leads us to freedom, fostering an environment of love and forgiveness in which people can find themselves, find God, and move toward wholeness. It is only in relationship with God that we are enabled to live the Law as God intended.
If the Law of the Lord is to revive the soul, as the Psalmist wrote, it must be leavened with Grace, described here by a modern-day writer of psalms. Where do you spend your time?