Divorce & Grace

The lectionary reading for the coming week in Luke skips over an awkward bit of scripture (as if the parable of the dishonest manager isn’t awkward enough) and takes us straight to the story of the rich man and Lazarus.

Of course, I’d like to deal with that awkward bit of scripture.

14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

16 “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.

18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery. (Luke 16:14–18 ESV)

The Pharisees ridiculed Jesus for the previous parable, for a tough teaching on grace and survival in the face of looming judgment (for the Pharisees were the dishonest managers being dismissed, and Jesus was essentially telling them how to save themselves and at the same time show grace to those they managed).

I’m curious about everyone forcing their way into the kingdom. What does Jesus mean? How does this relate to the parable of the dishonest manager, to the reaction of the Pharisees (who don’t think there is conflict in their service of God and their love of silver, and who do not want to believe judgment is coming), to the teaching of the torah itself?

I don’t have an answer. I’m merely asking a question. Musing on the subject.

And here is that teaching on divorce. As I’ve written before, I’ve come to believe that the church’s historic teaching on divorce — that marriages are indissoluble — is probably correct, if for no other reason that with all the sin, disobedience, and faithlessness (murder, rape, war, adultery, wife stealing), we have no examples in scripture of divorce itself. The teaching does not specifically prohibit it (except when a man seduces or rapes a young woman not betrothed, he must marry her and can never divorce her, Deuteronomy 22:28–29), but the teaching also doesn’t encourage it either.

More to the point, the history doesn’t.

But … suppose what Jesus is saying here is descriptive rather than prescriptive. Meaning that he isn’t banning or forbidding second marriages or even adultery. The Torah forbids it, and yet we have plenty of it in the history (especially when we get to David). What does one do with sinners? What does Jesus do with sinners? He receives them, eats with them, and forgives them.


Perhaps this is just a statement of a fact — you who abandon wives to marry new ones, you who marry women who have been divorced, you have sinned. Are sinners. This giving and taking is not the faithfulness of God, who loves Israel despite her clear and abhorrent infidelity.

That is the measure of a marriage — self-giving faithfulness in the face of betrayal and abandonment. Few of us can live that way

Now, whether Rome is right to deny the divorced the grace of the communion table, I don’t know. I do believe that for all Rome gets right, its love of Athens and reason force Rome (and much of the rest of the church) to believe, justify, and explain a good, created order order that scripture seems largely unconcerned with. The teaching may tell us how to behave, and demand that good behavior, but the grace and presence of God seems contingent on our needing to be redeemed, which means we have to be suffering the consequences of our sin (or of those who came before us), rather than compliantly behaving ourselves.

Grace is for sinners. Adulterers. Murderers. Thieves. Those invested in and who profit from an abusive and rapacious social order. And those they brutally exclude. It cannot be for anyone else.

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