Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Even the Gospel writer knows this question isn’t really about divorce. Rather, the Pharisees want to see what political camp Jesus falls into and so they pick a hot button issue to test his temperature. Is Jesus a Republican or a Democrat? Is he a conservative or a liberal? Maybe even a Libertarian?!
Despite bumper stickers that say otherwise, Jesus is not a Democrat or a Republican. While Jesus’ earthly ministry certainly confronts the political realm, and while some of the things he does might fall in line with a particular sect’s agenda, Jesus himself is bound by a higher platform – God’s platform – a platform that even the most noble of human institutions fail to live up to.
As we read along, we see that Jesus will not be baited into a question that seeks to divide rather than unite. Jesus knows the motives of the Pharisees are impure. Therefore, Jesus gets the Pharisees to answer the question for themselves which they were glad to do. But then Jesus reminds them that the law about divorce isn’t from God but was written because of humanity’s hardness of heart.
Very subtly, Jesus changes the trajectory of the conversation from the legal grounds for divorce to God’s intention for humanity through marriage. Jesus recalls the passage that we read from Genesis today, a passage which begins by saying, “It is not good that man should be alone.” The purpose of marriage, and even more broadly, the purpose of God with usis to communicate – you are not alone – no matter what.
Finally, Jesus makes the point the Pharisees fail to comprehend. “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” While humanity has spent much of its existence looking for ways to divide and separate, God has spent God’s life among us looking for ways to unite us and bring us back together. As Christians, we proclaim a God who reconciles us all through Christ crucified – the one who died for Republicans and Democrats and even Libertarians alike.
While the immediate context of today’s gospel lesson is marriage between two people, the bigger picture is the marriage between God and humanity. As Christians, we believe that through Jesus Christ, God has established a bond with humanity that can never be broken – not even the power of sin and the finality of death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
It has been God’s intention from the very beginning that we live together in a common life that looks a lot like the vows we make in marriage, that we depend on each other for strength and encouragement and mutual joy, that we love each other in good times and in bad, that we raise our children to know the goodness and mercy of our all loving God.
Like with any marriage, our communal commitment to these promises begin strong but along the way our hearts are hardened, a scorecard gets kept, suspicions grow, indifference and apathy run rampant. We forget that we are meant for each other. We forget that we can’t do this without each other.
Suddenly, the conversation is reduced to why one party is guiltier than the other party. The conversation is reduced to finger pointing and blame shifting. In the process, we absolve ourselves from any wrong doing by pointing to laws that are not from the heart of God but laws that have grown out of our hardness of heart.
As a society, we would do well to remember some of the first things we learn in pre-marital counseling – at least I hope you learned this in premarital counseling. In case you didn’t or if you aren’t married, there are three critical phrases needed for a successful marriage, and they work best when they are said in this order: I was wrong; I am sorry; I love you.
Can you imagine the healing and reconciliation that would take place if we said these things to each other more often? Not just on a personal level but on a macro level? I was wrong. I am sorry. I love you.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where saying these kinds of things is a sign of weakness. We live in a society where are told to never admit fault or apologize when we get into a car accident. We live in a society where saying, “I was wrong. I am sorry. I love you” can cost us a lot of money, a job, and even a reputation.
But as a preacher of God’s Word, I can tell you that saying these things will not cost you the kingdom of God. In fact, saying these three phrases will enlarge your vision of the kingdom of God. As the famous hymn proclaims, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also: The body they might kill, but God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.”
At the end of the day, saying, “I’m wrong. I’m sorry. I love you” is the essence of God’s law for humanity. While God does not expect perfection, God calls us back to perfection through the law fulfilled alone in Christ Jesus – the One who, on a cross constructed by hardness of heart, begs us to say, “I was wrong. I am sorry. I love you.”
On the cross, Jesus changes the trajectory of the conversation. At the foot of the cross, none of us can say that we are justified according to the law. And if you can, then you must be Jesus.
At the foot of the cross, how can we not say, “How long will we continue to destroy the image of God in the other? Aren’t we already broken enough? When will we realize that we need each other – that we need the goodness and mercy of God – and if not for our sakes, for the sake of the children? For the sake of the children, can we, as married couples and members of society alike, find the grace to say, “I was wrong. I am sorry. I love you.”
Today’s lesson ends with Jesus becoming indignant toward the disciples for stopping the little children from coming forward. He says, “Whoever does not enter the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” In just a few minutes, our children will come into church during The Peace. They might cause a little disruption to the flow of things, but I invite you to see this disruption be an outward and visible sign that Jesus himself is disrupting the flow of things in our world.
Jesus is disrupting our pattern of self-righteous legalism. Jesus is disrupting our desire to keep the status quo, to maintain a philosophy that says – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Jesus is disrupting our desire to separate and divide in the name of self-justification and preservation.
Jesus is turning our attention toward the things that really matter, toward the kingdom of God – a place where the most vulnerable and powerless among us are lifted, a place where the giving of ourselves to God and to others is where true power is found – the power of God’s love.
No, Jesus was not a Democrat or a Republican or even a Libertarian. Jesus is Lord and Savior of all. And that Jesus calls us to live not according to the ideals of any earthly institution, rather according to the way of Jesus – a way that brings the kingdom of God into focus, a way that discovered and re-discovered when we find the grace to say, “I was wrong. I am sorry. I love you.”
Following the way of Jesus, may all of us – Democrat, Republican, and Libertarian alike –find ourselves gathered in God’s kingdom, in God’s heavenly institution so that God can get on with God’s work of healing, reconciliation, and restoration of community. And, at the end of the day, may we all have reason to say, “therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Amen.