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Jesus' teachings often seem hard, even unattainable. But should we see them as goals to be achieved despite enormous odds? Or should we rather see them as clear statements of the depths of our shortcomings, making plain the huge gulf between our abilities and the demands of holiness?
The answers to those two questions determine whether we will attempt to achieve salvation by our own efforts, or recognise that only grace can save us.
Jesus has already applied this thinking several times. For example, he claims that lust in a man's heart is as bad as adultery. Anger in a man's heart is as bad as murder. An eye that causes you to sin should be pulled out and thrown away. Now, in Matthew 19:1-12, he applies the same approach to divorce.
While he's healing the crowds, the Pharisees come with another testing question, part of the process laid down for checking out anyone who claims to be Ha Mashiach, The Messiah. Ironically, but true to form, they are more interested in technicalities than in the healings taking place before their very eyes; surely that should have been sufficient evidence!
As usual, it's a trick question, "Is there any valid reason for a man to divorce his wife?" Yet in asking this, they thought they had a trump card up their sleeves. Moses wrote that yes, you could write a letter of divorce (making it official) and then send your wife away (making it practical). So if Yahshua says "No" they can point to Mosaic law, but if he says "Yes" they can point to passages in Genesis.
Of course, it all unravels for them. Jesus tells them that the perfect and original state of affairs is that a marriage cannot be broken. And as far as Moses goes, he says that divorce became necessary through human weakness and failure. So divorce and remarriage is equivalent to adultery just as anger is equivalent to murder. And that's his final word on the matter to a Pharisaic heart.
But see how he responds to a repentant heart. To the woman caught in adultery he says, "Has anyone condemned you? Neither do I. Go in peace but don't sin" (John 8:2-11). That is grace in action.
The lesson we can take from this is not just a lesson about marriage, divorce and adultery, it's a challenge to have the same kind of grace in our hearts that Jesus demonstrated for us. If I am to represent him among the people in my street and in my town I'd better think more like a little Jesus than a little Pharisee.
Perhaps Jesus drives this message home in Matthew 19:13-15. We must never turn away the simple-hearted, the inexperienced, or those without understanding. The worldly wise will always look out for themselves. But the weak (like the woman caught in adultery) need our blessing.
If Jesus didn't come for the rich or strong or healthy or wise but for the poor in spirit and the weak and the sick and the little children, I should do the same.
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