As I see it, Jesus regarded the Law as God’s gift for the good ordering of society and as a guide for personal behaviour. He emphasized the spirit or intention of the Law and refused to get into legalistic arguments about the interpretation of the letter of the Law. For him, the Law, like the sabbath, was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Law. Everyone knew that the Law allowed a man to divorce his wife if he found something objectionable about her (Deuteronomy 24:1). The debate that raged at the time was over what constituted sufficient grounds for a divorce. The question put to him in Mark 10:2 was a test to see whether he was on the side of the hardliners or that of the liberals. But he refused to be drawn into this controversy. He emphasized that God intended marriages to be lasting. Divorce was always only a second-best. We might keep in mind that God’s law of love is also relevant here: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” This law applies to those in the marriage relationship as it does to other human relationships. This means that respect, loyalty, commitment, sacrifice, and co-operation apply in marriage as anywhere else. Instead of getting involved in the legalistic argument over what constituted adequate grounds for divorce, he stressed God’s primary intention for marriage. I think that what he was saying was that in this sinful and broken world divorce has to be allowed for but it is not the ideal. One thing he was not doing was setting up a new code of laws for people to argue about. What is noteworthy though is that he went further, indicating that what was permitted to the husband applied to the wife as well, putting the man and the woman on an equal footing. This was revolutionary in a patriarchal society.
- How have community attitudes toward marriage changed during your life time?
- Do you think it would be appropriate to say, as with the Law or the Sabbath, that marriage was made for humankind, not humankind for marriage? What would this mean? (You might like to look up Mark 2:27 as the background to this question.)
- What are the major reasons for marriages breaking down?
- How can we stress the life-long nature of marriage without binding a person to living in a destructive and abusive relationship?