The church has too often been quick to condemn. Jesus though rarely condemned anybody. Indeed, to be quite blunt about it, the only people we see Jesus condemn in the New Testament are not weak and sinful people who have failed, but pompous, self-righteous religious people who think the sun shines out of them.
In line with that, let me suggest to you that this verse about, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another", might not be about judging divorced or remarried people. It may be solely aimed at those who use the law to justify their selfish activity. The context, you will remember, is that Jesus is dialoguing with the religious leaders about the law. The religious leaders of the day had an issue with Jesus - namely, that he seemed to be flouting the law by being overly merciful, as in the case with the adulterous woman.
Conversely, Jesus had an issue with these religious leaders - namely, that they used the law to excuse themselves from their moral responsibilities. The classic example of this is seen a couple of chapters earlier, in Mark chapter 7, where Jesus lays into the Pharisees for allowing the practice of "Korban", whereby a member of the faith community could dedicate some of his belongings to God and so make them tax-exempt, such that he would not be required share his dedicated goods even with his parents, or anybody else who had a legitimate claim upon him! If there's one thing Jesus couldn't stand, it was people using religion to try to legitimise their sinfulness. If you're going to be greedy, and not allow your parents to live in your home with you, don't pretend it's because you've dedicated those extra rooms to God, so that they can only be used for worship. And likewise, if you're going to trade in your wife for a younger model, don't try to make out that you're doing something morally legitimate by offering her a certificate of divorce first! Let me give a very concrete example of exactly what we're looking at here.
Earlier this year I went down to Melbourne to do a TV segment with John Saffran and Father Bob on a show called, "Speaking in Tongues". One of the other guests that I met up with there was a fascinating woman who had worked as a professional wife for some years in Tehran. She was not a sex-worker. She was a professional wife. And her clients were not sleeping around. They were having half-hour marriages.
In Tehran it is legal to have more than one wife, but it is not permitted for a man to sleep with a woman who is not his wife. So these men would come to this woman's flat and marry her. Half an hour later they would issue her a certificate of divorce and go home (back to their original wife, I suppose). Now I don't think they had a cleric on hand to perform the marriage, but I remember her telling me how there was a way of getting around the formal wedding ceremony too.
The bottom line is that these guys figured that their consciences were clean. They hadn't done anything wrong. They hadn't slept around.
They hadn't committed adultery. They hadn't dishonoured their original wife or this woman. They had simply had what was in the eyes of God an entirely legitimate half-hour marriage. And in that context, Jesus says, "what a load of crap!" The issues, as I see it, is not particularly to have a go at people who stuff up so much as to deride people who think they can legitimise their selfish behaviour through issuing legal certificates of marriage and divorce. In truth, it doesn't make any difference.
Sleeping around is sleeping around, selfishness is selfishness, adultery is adultery, sin is sin. Be a man and own what you are doing! Jesus was a straight talker, and he urged us to be the same. He urged us to speak plainly, letting our "yes" be "yes" and our "no" be "no". It's all about integrity! It's all about being honest about who you are and what you're on about. There's no need to pretend that you're not a sinner.
We're all sinners. We are the company of sinners who live by the grace of God in the cross of Christ. We're a community of people who live upon those words of Jesus, "I don't condemn you either". If you've failed, well.
so have I, and that's OK. If truth be known, my failures as a husband are only the beginning of my many failures, but that's OK. Christ still loves me and I'm working on it, and thankfully in the church (well, in this church at least) we've learnt not to put the boot in, but to support one another in our struggles. "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery!" True? Absolutely! So if you're planning on trading in your partner for a younger prettier model, well - you do what you gotta do, but please don't come and tell me that it's OK in the eyes of God because: 'You had a dream and God told you to be with this new woman' or 'You know the new woman is the one God intends because she's a Christian' or 'Because you don't think your first marriage was ever properly consummated' or 'Because you've given your first wife a certificate of divorce' Because I've heard them all before (yes, I have), and because Jesus has heard them all before, and because no amount of appealing to the by-laws of the Word of God is going to legitimate what is simply an act of human selfishness.
So if you're going to sin, as Martin Luther said, "sin boldly", but be a man about it and own up to what you are doing, for be assured that while Christ always has room for another sinner, He seems to have very little space for self-righteous hypocrites. Now . I'm sure that someone is going to challenge me after the service today and tell me that I've been overly lax on sinners this morning, most especially adulterers, and maybe that's right. Certainly I don't want to give you the impression that Jesus said that adultery is OK. Of course it's not. Nothing that damages other people and destroys families is OK.
But frankly, I don't think that the church - this church or any church - is really in any danger of going soft on issues of marital infidelity. I think the far greater danger is that we get caught up in the same self-righteous hypocrisy that the Pharisees were known for, and look down upon those who do stuff up. Sin happens.
Adultery happens. If it's happened to you, it's not a lot of fun. If you've been the one who initiated the problem, it probably didn't end up being much fun for you either! In the end, the word of Jesus that we all live by is the one he gave the adulterous woman, "I don't condemn you either", and neither should we condemn one another.
Rev. David B. Smith (the 'Fighting Father') Parish priest, community worker,martial arts master, pro boxer, author, father of three. Get a free preview of Dave's book,Sex, the Ring & the Eucharist when you subscribe to his newsletter at www.fatherdave.org