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Saturday, March 18, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 16 of 40: A New Kind of Righteousness: Part III

Matthew 5:31-32
It was also said, "Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce".  But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

In reading these verses, we must remember that they are part of a group of verses in which Jesus is defining a new kind of righteousness; a righteousness that goes beyond mere compliance with a law but involves a righteousness of heart and soul and the realization that without a savior, this kind of righteousness is not possible.  This kind of righteousness cannot be achieved on our own strength and can only be achieved when we live in the grace, mercy and forgiveness of God.

When Jesus preached this sermon and spoke these words about divorce, men were divorcing their wives in order to marry other women with which they had become involved outside of marriage. Since divorce was allowed under the law the men felt that they had done nothing wrong under the law and their status had not changed in the eyes of God because they had acted legally.  They were actually using the laws of divorce for their own selfish desires, thinking they were outsmarting God.

So, Jesus is using this as an example of the righteousness given under the law versus the righteousness of God.  He tells His audience that marriage is not to be taken lightly and that men basically had no reason for divorcing their wives unless they had committed adultery. Further, if a man divorced his wife for any other reason and remarried, he committed adultery (and he actually caused his former wife to commit adultery if she remarried).

In Jesus' time we must remember that women had few options.  Women were not allowed to testify in court because they were held to be in the same category as minors, gentiles, deaf-mutes and the insane. A woman was not allowed to have her own business or work in a business unless she and her family had no other option (no man to depend upon for their needs).  She had to be veiled from head to toe when in public and could not speak with other men.  Most of the time she was confined to her home.  A woman was considered to be a prostitute if she did not conform to these laws/rules.  More than likely, women were illiterate.

But Jesus had a more liberal view of the role of women.  He spoke directly to them and offered them his teachings.  It did not matter if women sat at his feet as his male disciples did when he taught or listened to him from afar.  We see this behavior time after time in the gospels.

So, it is in this context that I view this teaching of Jesus.  A new righteousness raises women to their rightful place as equal children of God and impresses upon men and women the importance of their commitment to one another and the eternal quality of love that is shared in their union.  A marriage is based on a holy love, given from God as a gift of the Holy Spirit.  This union can only be broken whenever the covenant of love is broken to the point that it cannot be repaired for reasons not only of adultery but for mental and physical abuse that is so prevalent in our society today.

{The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church related to divorce are as follows:

God’s plan is for lifelong, faithful marriage. The church must be on the forefront of premarital, marital, and post-marital counseling in order to create and preserve healthy relationships. However, when a married couple is estranged beyond reconciliation, even after thoughtful consideration and counsel, divorce is a regrettable alternative in the midst of brokenness. We grieve over the devastating emotional, spiritual, and economic consequences of divorce for all involved, understanding that women and especially children are disproportionately impacted by such burdens. As the Church we are concerned about high divorce rates. It is recommended that methods of mediation be used to minimize the adversarial nature and fault-finding that are often part of our current judicial processes, encouraging reconciliation wherever possible. We also support efforts by governments to reform divorce laws and other aspects of family law in order to address negative trends such as high divorce rates.

Although divorce publicly declares that a marriage no longer exists, other covenantal relationships resulting from the marriage remain, such as the nurture and support of children and extended family ties. We urge respectful negotiations in deciding the custody of minor children and support the consideration of either or both parents for this responsibility in that custody not be reduced to financial support, control, or manipulation and retaliation. The welfare of each child is the most important consideration.

Divorce does not preclude a new marriage. We encourage an intentional commitment of the Church and society to minister compassionately to those in the process of divorce, as well as members of divorced and remarried families, in a community of faith where God’s grace is shared by all.}

{The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church related to men and women are:

We affirm with Scripture the common humanity of male and female, both having equal worth in the eyes of God. We reject the erroneous notion that one gender is superior to another, that one gender must strive against another, and that members of one gender may receive love, power, and esteem only at the expense of another. We especially reject the idea that God made individuals as incomplete fragments, made whole only in union with another. We call upon women and men alike to share power and control, to learn to give freely and to receive freely, to be complete and to respect the wholeness of others. We seek for every individual opportunities and freedom to love and be loved, to seek and receive justice, and to practice ethical self-determination. We understand our gender diversity to be a gift from God, intended to add to the rich variety of human experience and perspective; and we guard against attitudes and traditions that would use this good gift to leave members of one sex more vulnerable in relationships than members of another.}

Monday we study oaths and vows.

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