“Maybe my eyes can’t see
But you are surrounding me
Here in the wind and rain
The things that I know
Tender and sweet
Strong as my needs
I know the voice, I know the touch
Lover of my soul”
- Amy Grant, from the 1995 album “My Utmost for His Highest”
The concept of marriage has been around since the dawn of humankind. In fact, when God was creating, everything was considered “good” until God got to the part of man being alone. That was the first thing God declared “not good” about His creation. So He took one of Adam’s ribs and made him a help-mate, Eve. And people have been coupling up ever since. But the reasons for marriage, in particular, the concept of marrying for love is relatively new.
While there are still places in the world today where marriages are arranged by well-intentioned parents for the purpose of enhancing the family fortune/reputation or to conclude some meaningful business transaction, our modern resolution to marry someone you love has only existed for about a century and a half. One thing is certain, however, according to this Jesus guy in the Bible, marriage is something meant to endure the test of time (Matthew 19:6).
In the passage we will look at today, we must remember that Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, had been executed by King Herod for expressing opinions on the king’s recent marriage to his brother’s wife. Some Pharisees find Jesus healing the sick east of the Jordan River and they intentionally try to trap Him with a question about divorce. Namely, can a man divorce his wife for any reason?
Besides being sexist and typical of that day, Jesus doesn’t bite. Instead He gives a mini-history lesson on what marriage represents. Not dissuaded, the Pharisees try again. This time, they focus on the fact that Moses (yes, THAT Moses – the great law giver) allowed for divorce and Jesus shoots back that it was only because of how screwed up human beings can be. The Messiah acknowledges that only in the case of adultery is divorce ever justified. Upon hearing this, His disciples immediately conclude that it is better not to marry. I find this ironic because while a lot has changed, there’s still a lot that hasn’t.
What do I mean? Human relationship dynamics have always been sexist. Remember the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8)? The Pharisees demanded she be executed for her crime. Yet, as the saying goes, it takes two to tango. Where was the man? How is it that he was not also dragged before Jesus to be stoned to death? And today, men can be married and yet have mistresses on the side and very few people blink. He is considered a stud. Yet if a woman has multiple sexual partners she is considered a slut and shunned by society. That double-standard continues to exist.
Fortunately, Jesus doesn’t take sides and He doesn’t take the bait being laid by the Pharisees. He concludes that it is a hard road either way – but for some individuals it is truly better not to marry. And here he mentions three specific sets of people: people who were born eunuchs, people who were made eunuchs, and those who put service to the Kingdom ahead of marriage. Odd. What does He mean? A eunuch is a male without testicles. Here He says sometimes people are born without the proper sexual equipment or sometimes they end up that way at the hands of another. For them, it might be better not to marry.
For the longest time, I thought I was one of those people mentioned in the third category: the kind who are celibate all their lives in service to the Kingdom of God. In His mini-lesson on marriage, Jesus talks about the two individuals becoming one flesh. What I have learned in marrying my spouse, is that this is not just a physical bond. There is also the more important emotional bond where, as Jerry Macguire says, my spouse “completes me”. Where I am now a “whole” person as a result of knowing this individual. This is the more important bond that is never supposed to be broken.
So, what can we learn from this passage? Dare we say what the disciples did? That it is better not to marry? Or that marriage is so sacred that only the ultimate act of betrayal in adultery should ever severe it? I once took a marriage and family class in college and was challenged by the instructor to only marry if by doing so, my spouse and I could serve God better together than we ever could separately.
As it stands now, my spouse is an incarnate version of God and His love for me, that I never understood as a single person. It is almost as if God is reaching down through this person and physically reminding me of how much He loves me every day. How awesome is that? Having a companion on this hard road of life makes the journey so much sweeter and worthwhile. And it draws me closer to the lover of my soul.