We’ve all heard the Gospel passage a million times: Jesus, talking about the importance and permanence of marriage.
My whole life, I have focused on the obvious teaching here: that marriage is forever, and divorce = bad.
But there’s a lot to unpack in the unspoken questions of justice that lie behind this teaching. Women didn’t get to file for divorce in ancient Israel. Only men. And when women got cast aside, they didn’t have many options–and no good ones at all.
So this teaching protects women, who were among the most powerless in society in his time. This says a lot about the sanctity of marriage, of course–but it also says a lot about what Jesus thought about the pursuit of justice in the temporal world.
Because really, that’s what the disciples were all bent out of shape about in the later part of this Gospel passage, when they protested to Jesus: the limits on their power. They’re just baffled by Jesus saying this. “If we can’t divorce a wife whenever we want,” they say, “then it’s be better not to get married at all!” Jesus just cut the legs out from under their absolute power in relationship. Of course they found it threatening.
To those who think we shouldn’t worry about working toward justice in the real world–who think none of that matters because we should only focus on the world beyond–this Gospel passage is a rebuke. Justice DOES matter.