“Is it lawful [Jesus]?” the Pharisees asked. About divorce they wanted to know; about how to end a marriage. And it was a test when they asked it – for them to see if what Jesus taught matched up with what they prized, what they believed they’d received from Moses. They thought they were seeking God’s will when they said “lawful” – that is, what God commands. Of course, you understand that a question like “What’s lawful?” is only one word different yet a whole world apart from a question like “What’s good?” The Pharisees’ question asks, “What do I have to do?” and at the same time, “What can I get away with?” – that is, “How can I get what I desire?” The faithful instead ask, “What has God done?” and at the same time, “What do I get to enjoy?” – that is, “What’s God’s desire for me?”
This morning we’re asking what kind of spirit God’s Holy Spirit generates in our hearts regarding marriage. And with Jesus we turn hard away from the Pharisees’ concept to celebrate marriage as so much better than lawful because God says marriage is good.
And we ought to understand that he means marriage to be good for us – the crown of his creation. Strangely, we see it as God identifies the first “not good” thing in all of creation in 2:18 where he says, “It is not good for the man to be alone…” And then God proceeds to show by his gift of marriage just how special his human beings are. You see, in chapter 2, God’s doing what he’d done with male hippo, supplying his coordinate, female hippo; just what happened with male pterodactyl and his coordinate female pterodactyl. With mankind too, “male and female he created them”, except better than the animals… Remember, God made man different than the animals: “in the image of God”, perfect and holy, to rule over the animals and the world, to tend to the Eden in which he was placed, and finally to show love for God by choosing daily to do what God desired and to keep away from what God had forbidden. By Gen 2:18, Moses tells of how God doesn’t simply supply a mate for man, but invites him into God’s creation process, to discover and know the need God has simply filled with every other creature. Adam alone is tasked with naming all the animals that in doing so he can see their pairs and know his loneliness and desire what God will give when he graciously brings the man the beautiful woman to be his wife.
God says marriage is good and he means it as good for the crown of creation – for mankind alone; our special way to not be alone. A gift no animal ever received. A gift no animal is invited to think through and enjoy. Marriage is good because it’s God’s gift to humankind.
And marriage is good for humankind in the specific form God presented it. He takes a male human being and pairs him with a female human being – natural as with the animals, but notable with reason and rejoicing. Jesus, in our gospel, reminds us that God intends marriages of all time to match his pattern from the beginning of time – because God created them male and female, so they will be married. In marriage, God brings to Adam his “helper” – as Paul will later say when he speaks about the roles we men and women are to fulfill: the order in creation reflects the authority God wants to exist – in marriage: the husband to lovingly lead and the wife to gladly submit to his leadership. Yet when he pairs them, God brings together equals – as leaders or helpers, exercising their love in time and talents as Paul says it later to the Galatians, “brothers and sisters…called to be free”, free to “walk by the Spirit” according to God’s holy will. And finally, in a significant way – receiving the gift of marriage in mutual consent and commitment, not just for a time but for life, forsaking all others, and enjoying the blessings and benefits of being so close that they are “no longer two, but one” flesh, actually belonging one to the other; so inseparable as to be sanctioned by God and sacrosanct to every other human being. By this kind of marriage, God blesses Adam and Eve, you and me, and all history with his goodness.
If God so clearly says these things, what do we say who regularly receive his Word? How often our words and actions in marriage say something other than that we’re one flesh! How easily we can point fingers to blame our spouses for our marital failures, instead of willingly forgiving and examining our own faults! How tempting for husbands to “lead” as hurtful tyrants or fearfully from behind instead of seeing their leadership role as a loving responsibility! And for wives to resent their husbands’ leadership instead of submitting to them “ï»¿as to the Lordï»¿”! Certainly an only “lawful” keeping of marriage tempts when same-sex marriage is legalized around the world. And more, we struggle to define “good” when our world fills every animal need with sex or calls God’s definitions bigoted and hatred or when we love or sympathize with those who struggle with sin. And how easy to question marriage as a good gift when you can’t seem to have it for yourself – whether you long for it and can’t seem to find it or have lost it already altogether. The sad truth is, we’re tempted to make marriage as legally low as possible and to consider God’s good gift as everything but good. And like the Pharisees, our sinful words and deeds get right down to whether we’re connected to God at all…
What a great blessing then that God in his wisdom and mercy would picture our very salvation in this good way. St. Paul said it most memorably when he patterned marital love on Jesus’ work. He says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” For all our sins against marriage as a concept, for sins within our own marriages, sins that divorce us from God and prove our unfaithfulness and our weak, basic lusts – for all of them, Christ supplies his faithful love in leadership that gave himself up to death to make us holy and clean from all our sins. In baptismal grace, we stand as people of God radiant and holy and unstained – beautiful as a bride on her wedding day before God – and just as happy too.
You know, I wondered as I prepared over the last weeks for this sermon, what the connection in Mark’s gospel is between the Pharisee’s marriage question and Jesus’ words on faith like a little child’s. But, if we consider it most simply, isn’t it just this: so many things tempt me not to think of marriage as good and yet what God wants is that I receive his word about marriage in simple trust: the faith of a child, like that of Adam when God brought him Eve. Adam said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” When God gave his gift, Adam his child simply trusted God that this was good and rejoiced with a poem of praise.
Those who receive God’s Word say marriage is good too. You who are married say marriage is good: as husbands, lead your families by the Word of God and by an example that says in words and deeds that you love them more than yourselves; as wives, support and help your husbands and encourage them with your love and respect; husbands and wives, work together to keep your marriages strong lifelong by studying God’s Word and by committing to love your spouse. You who are single say marriage is good: pray to the Lord that he would give you peace and steadfastness to lead a holy and pure life, and if you long to have this good gift pray also that he would bless you with a godly spouse and a strong marriage; as you live unmarried, thank God that he gives that state to some and pray that their marriages will be strong and good. Married and unmarried say that marriage is good: in your words and actions to the world and to one another prize what God has given.
As Jesus reminded the Pharisees, his gift of marriage isn’t some law to keep, some situation to be regulated, a state in which we just get by. It’s much better than just lawful – it’s God’s good gift to us his special creatures. And we who have received all his good gifts by faith are able to tell how good marriage is in our lives. As Christ leads us by his Word, may we be filled with his Spirit and have a right spirit among us about marriage. Amen.