Tag Archives: Matthew 19

The Sticky Wicket

The Sticky Wicket (CaD Matt 19) Wayfarer

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
Matthew 19:3 (NIV)

I married as a young man with every intention of never divorcing. I was blessed growing up that I didn’t experience it in my own family. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have feelings of shame and failure when it actually happened seventeen years later.

Divorce is a sticky wicket among many Christian persuasions. Among some more Fundamentalist branches divorce is leveraged as a major litmus test to distinguish the pure and the unpure, who is “in” and who is “out,” who is “holy” and who is not. When my first wife and I were amidst our divorce I received a handwritten letter of some 8-10 pages from a “friend” who felt it important to explain to me why I was going to hell in no uncertain terms and would be forever sealed with the scarlet letter “D” for the rest of my days. According to him, divorce was an unpardonable sin. There was no grace, no redemption, and no going back. What was really interesting about it, however, was that this friend’s wife had left him many years before that, divorced him, and got remarried though he steadfastly refused to acknowledge that they were, in fact, divorced. He continued to wear his wedding ring and live in denial.

Divorce brings out all sorts of emotions in all sorts of people.

In today’s chapter, the fundamentalist religious leaders approach Jesus with the motivation of testing Him. If you want to “test” someone, just ask the person to take a stand on a controversial issue knowing that you’ll make at least half your audience angry. Politicians and journalists do it all the time. It’s a tactic from a well-worn playbook.

The test for Jesus was the sticky wicket of divorce, though modern readers may not comprehend the full context of the matter in Jesus’ day. Among the Hebrew religious lawyers at that time, there were two schools of thought when interpreting the Law of Moses in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 in which a man who “finds something displeasing” about his wife “because he finds something indecent about her” then he can write a certificate of divorce and send her from his house. One legal camp focused on the term “finds something displeasing” and contended that any man could divorce his wife for any displeasure no matter how small or trivial. He might simply divorce her for burning his steak. The other legal camp focused on the phrase “because he finds something indecent about her” and believed that divorce was confined to some kind of indecent sexual immorality.

In Jesus’ day, divorce was a much larger social issue. Women had no rights. Women had no legal standing. Women had virtually no means or opportunity to survive and provide for themselves. Thus, a widow or a divorced woman was placed in the precarious position of having very few options available to them. They could find another husband (good luck finding a husband with that scarlet “D” on your tunic), they could live off the charity of family or friends, or they could become sex workers. A man who dismissed his wife was not only placing her in an impossible position but was also adding to a larger social problem for which there were few good answers.

Jesus, of course, pointed back to the pattern of creation as God’s intent: one man and one woman who become one flesh for life. I find it intriguing that polygamy was not a heated religious issue given this fact and its prevalence throughout history.

In the quiet this morning, I guess you could say that I’m wrestling with my demons. Shame is a constant for me. Jesus certainly pointed to the ideal as God’s desire for us, though my experience is that the ideal is rarely seen or experienced on this life journey in any context. In this fallen world, divorce is a human reality as old as humanity itself. It will never be ideal. At the same time, my personal experience is that God was never absent during the breakdown of my marriage or during the time of my divorce. And, my experience through it all was ultimately that of God’s love, grace, restoration, redemption, and the germination of new life in multiple ways. Old things passed away, and new things began.

There are so many sins and mistakes that wreak havoc on lives, families, and, society. Divorce is one of them, but certainly not the only one. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in my 40 years of following Jesus, it’s that the very heart of His entire mission was to take broken things and to redeem them, to make them new. Wendy and I have seen this and experienced it in countless ways, despite the pit to hell that my “friend” dug for me in his letter all those years ago. I can’t help but remember the words of Corrie ten Boom: “This is no pit so deep that God’s grace isn’t deeper still.”

Note: I will be taking a break next week while I’m out on a business trip and focusing on my client. Feel free to use the Chapter-a-Day Index to go back and read some old posts. You can also scroll back through old episodes on any of the podcast platforms. Have a great week!

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Our Physical Lives Frame Our Spiritual Perspectives

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
Matthew 19:16 (NIV)

Late last week I received notice that one our clients was terminating our company’s services. Public records show that their company is facing significant financial losses, so their move is not unusual nor entirely unexpected. The news, however, is never pleasant to receive. This company had been a faithful client. We had done good work and provided good value to them through our ongoing quality assessments. The loss of income from the project will temporarily pinch the budget for Wendy and me, and I confess that our moods around the house have not exactly been buoyant since I received that notice.

On Monday afternoon I had to leave on a scheduled business trip and got the mail just before I headed to the airport. In the mail was a letter from a young girl named Joyce. Joyce is a girl in Africa whom Wendy and I support financially through Compassion International. Joyce is a young girl going to school and hoping some day to be a doctor. In her letter she thanked Wendy and I for our gifts and asked for our prayers as a drought in the region had destroyed the crops that her people depend on for survival both economically and physically. Despite the dire circumstances, Joyce expressed trust in God’s provision. As I finished reading the letter out loud to Wendy, it was obvious to us both that Joyce’s letter was a well-timed dose of needed perspective.

Our earthly lives frame our spiritual perspectives. In the chapter today a rich man comes to Jesus and asks, “What good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?” I noticed as I read that the man was approaching spiritual matters like an economic transaction. His life was likely dictated by daily transaction. Do this and receive a fee for service. Pay this and receive this in return. He was approaching his spirituality with the same transactional paradigm.

“Let’s make a deal, Jesus. You’ve got eternity on your side and I want a piece of that. You know what? I’ll even be gracious enough to let you start the negotiations and set the price. So tell me what you require. What one thing, what good deed, do I need to do to punch my ticket to heaven? Give a tenth to the church? Be nice to a Roman? Volunteer for my company’s United Way campaign? Give a week to help build a house for a poor family? Pay tuition for a girl in Africa? What’s it gonna be? You just name it. “

Our earthly lives frame our spiritual perspectives. Life had skewed the man’s perspective to see his relationship with God like everything else in his temporal paradigm. Jesus’ answer cuts immediately to the heart of the matter. Salvation is not a transaction, Jesus tells him, but a liquidation. Jesus Himself provided the example:

Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:5-8 (emphasis added)

This morning I must confess that I’m humbly mulling over my own skewed perspectives. How easy it is for me to talk about trusting Jesus when I don’t really have to think about where I’m going to lay my head tonight, or whether my family will have enough to eat.

Have mercy, Lord.

Chapter-a-Day Matthew 19

Coffee Argument
Image by alasdair.d via Flickr

But Jesus said, “Not everyone is mature enough to live a married life. It requires a certain aptitude and grace. Marriage isn’t for everyone. Matthew 19:11 (MSG)

On Sunday night, after a long day and a trip to Des Moines, Wendy and I returned home and got into an argument. Little arguments pop up on any given day. They come and go like a cloudburst on a warm summer afternoon; They quickly emerge out of nowhere and are just as quickly forgotten. Then there are the arguments that build like a perfect storm and you unexpectedly find yourselves embroiled in a conversation that runs deep into the heart of who you are as individuals, and who you are together as a couple. The storm raged back and forth until after midnight on Sunday as we navigated our way through the tossing waves of intention, thought, emotion, notion and behavior.

Wendy and I don’t just have a good marriage, we have a great marriage. And still, at times, it’s really difficult to wade through the muck that’s created when two selfish, sinful human beings get together. We’re both good communicators and we still find it difficult at times to navigate the relational mine field of marriage.

I’ve lived through the long struggle and pain of a failed marriage. I’ve now experienced the blessing of a truly great marriage relationship. Through it all, I’ve come to better understand and truly believe Jesus’ words about marriage. We live in a culture dedicated to exactly the opposite of Jesus’ teaching: everyone should get married, and if you don’t there’s something wrong with you. That’s a huge load of b.s. We might publicly shout “amen” to Jesus’ words, but in practice we run to on-line dating services, play matchmaker to our unmarried friends and family, and secretly wonder “I wonder why he/she is still not married” as if being single is abnormal.

Marriage isn’t for everyone. Many people are better off single. We shake our heads in disgust at the divorce rate in our culture. Yet, aren’t we to blame when we treat marriage as a relational idol, bowing to the notion that marriage is to be honored without question even when the individuals getting married are setting sail into a perfect relational storm inside a dinghy that looks like swiss cheese?  Are we to blame for the divorce rate when we treat singleness as a cultural disease and make single people feel second rate? How many failed marriages begin with desperate individuals jumping at any chance to have a wedding and get married?

I’ll step off my soap box now.

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