At the moment at church we’re working our way through Matthew’s Gospel. It’s been a bit of a slow trip through, and we’re currently inching our way through chapter 5.
The way things work is that on Sunday, Hugo preaches the next bit of the chapter, and then in home groups mid-week, we look at the same bit of the chapter in more detail, and talk a bit more about application stuff. The whole thing has been really interesting, and challenging, with the occasional segue into awkward or hilarious (particularly last week when we were talking about lust). But, all in all, I’d have to characterise my predominant reaction as uncomfortable, but in a good way.
This week we’ve made it to 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 everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
This isn’t actually a post about divorce, in case you’re worried. I’ve got thoughts on divorce, as I have thoughts on everything, but I’m not blogging about them. What I am blogging about is the fact that I’ve been reminded, once again, of what a picky, little Pharisee I am.
Everything that we’ve been looking at has followed on from the crushing demands of Jesus’ words in v.20:
For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
It’s crushing because it looks totally impossible. The Pharisees, at first glance, have the highest demands of righteousness going, and there’s no way I’m ever going to meet them, let alone exceed them. And yet, as we delve a bit deeper into the text we see something else entirely: the Pharisees actually have set a pretty low bar, and as long as they meet it, they’re happier to call themselves righteousness, when God wants so much more from them.
This is what Hugo has been referring to as the ‘minimum requirement vs. maximum application’ approach.
Take this week’s passage, for example: the Pharisees approach to divorce is, as long as you hand your wife a certificate of divorce, you can chuck her away and get a new one, whenever you fancy. Jesus’ application of the law is drastically different, which we see most clearly when we look at his answer to their question on the subject in chapter 19.
They ask him under what circumstances divorce is acceptable, and he responds like this:
“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female,
and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?
So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Not with a list of reasons, but with a reminder that marriage is something bigger, and greater, and more holy than they seem to think.
My problem is that I come to the text like a Pharisee. I want a list of reasons, bullet-pointed, preferably, and I’m frustrated to discover that Jesus won’t give in to my demands.
He won’t give me a minimum requirement method to live my life by, because he’s all about the maximum requirement thing. And we’re back to that crushing weight of v.20 again: a call to righteousness that I just can’t meet.
Only, it turns out it’s not crushing after all, or at least, not crushing to me…
“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” Isaiah 53:5.
His demands are huge, but he meets them for me.
He takes away my dead, Pharisee heart of stone, and gives me a new heart of flesh; one that knows and loves him.
And although I’m the adulterous wife who whores herself out to anyone who’ll have have me, he doesn’t divorce me, but comes and dies and wins me back:
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. … And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD.” Hosea 2:14 &19-20
In summary: good news for Pharisees.