We live in such a comfortable country, with such amazing temporal prosperity, indoctrinated with so much therapeutic garbage, bombarded by messages espousing perpetual personal satisfaction at any cost that I doubt the following text of Scripture will even penetrate our ears.
3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 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’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” 10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it" (Matthew 19:3-12).
As various cultures seek to make sense of the world, and force what they want out of life, they will naturally come up with acceptable ways of thinking and behaving. In Israel, the culture had grown to the point where they had marriage, divorce and remarriage in a similar method as we have in our own culture. The Roman culture was very similar in values to Israel's in this area, except that they didn't have all sorts of rules to make it all seem righteous. Rome was an open free for all, whereas Israel was a subtle, manipulative free for all - thus, the charge of hypocrisy. So our host cultural values in America seem like a kind of meld between the two - certain sexual lifestyles consistent with Rome's values are shunned as they would have been in Israel, but folks have found their ways around the rules to indulge the same desires as the Romans. It was into this kind of mess that Jesus first spoke his words, and they fit well with our own context today.
I'll give the simplified version of the above text for the sake of brevity:
"So whatcha think of no-fault divorce, Jesus?"
"The same thing I think of all divorce - it's wrong."
"Well if it wasn't God's will, why did Moses tell the people to get divorced, Mr. Radical?"
"Because you're a hard-hearted rebel, Moses let you divorce, but those days are over. You don't get divorced unless you find out the one you're engaged to has sex behind your back before your wedding day. Only then can you decide to not consummate the marriage. If you're already married, and you get divorced and remarried, you've committed adultery. You can't separate what God joined together."
How do you think folks who heard that conversation would respond? Would you believe Jesus? What if you were someone who was contemplating marriage? Would you second guess your decision? What if you were stuck with a jerk spouse? Would you have any hope of improvement upon hearing Jesus' words? We know how the disciples responded. Again, I'll break it down for our modern ears to hear:
"Good grief, Jesus! If marriage is that permanent, I can't imagine why anyone would want to get married at all. Now I know why they call it a ball and chain! It's just not worth the risk of getting a loser spouse."
"Oh, I know it's hard to hear. It hurts your ears so badly that only the ones who are given understanding will even accept it."
So the disciples responded exactly how we would respond upon hearing the radical nature of marriage. According to Jesus, you have one shot. Let me repeat. According to Jesus, you have one shot. Just one. If you blow it, and pick the wrong one, too bad. If your spouse turns out to be a jerk, too bad. If your life is really hard because your spouse is a terrible decision-maker, too bad. If your "true love" finally walks into your life five years into your marriage, too bad. If your spouse gets an injury that prevents sex forever, too bad. If your spouse has lost that lovin' feelin', too bad. If your wife is contentious, too bad. If your husband is selfish, too bad. If your wife burns everything she cooks, too bad. If your husband refuses to take out the trash, too bad. If all you ever do is fight all the time, too bad. If you are from Venus, while your husband is from Mars, too bad. If you are from Mars while your wife is from Venus, too bad. If Brad Pitt happens to see you in the mall and falls head over heals for you, too bad. If Angelina Jolie stops by your house to ask for jumper cables and wants to run away with you, too bad. If Oprah and Dr. Phil and Uncle Sam all join forces to tell you it's alright, too bad. If every religious leader you come to says it'll be okay this one time, too bad. Too bad, too bad, too bad. If you're not dead, you're not free.
Does that sound too difficult? We have this way, in our comfortable therapeutic age, of dismissing as untrue anything that sounds too radical to be happy with. We place the highest value on self-determination. No one, including God, has the right to demand from us what we don't want to demand from ourselves. If it gets in the way of our self-actualization or our self-fulfillment or our selfish desire for immediate pleasure, then it simply cannot be reality. The same was true in Jesus' day, in people's hearts even if it wasn't flaunted as a cultural value.
That's why Jesus brings up the eunuchs. Eunuchs, among other things, served in courts of royalty because there wasn't much danger in them getting the hots for the female members of the household. How does a eunuch illustrate Jesus' point? Well, first of all, eunuchs are servants. Servants serve. They aren't self-determining. Others make their decisions for them. Second, eunuchs from birth probably didn't have much say in that little bit of surgery that would affect the rest of their natural lives. Maybe they wanted to have children someday. Too bad. Maybe they wanted to have chest hair. Too bad. Maybe they didn't want to be around a bunch of rich, hot chicks while not being able to want them. Too bad. Maybe they didn't want their anatomy to be treated like a pet dog. Too bad. What was done to them at birth, or at capture, would be carried with them the rest of their lives. Once the deed was done, there was no going back. They were eunuchs till death, with no chance of altering the future.
Then there are the ones, like Paul, who might as well have been a eunuch. Without actual surgery, Paul declared himself to be a eunuch by his actions. Jesus did as well. What do I mean by this? I mean that certain parts of their anatomy were totally useless because of the priorities they set in building the Kingdom of God. So as the disciples started pouting, "Why get married at all then, if you gotta stay that way the rest of your life?" Jesus answered, "Oh, poor babies. Might as well be eunuchs." And in using eunuchs as an example, Jesus was just as surely pointing to himself. He denied himself the pleasure and burden of marriage.
I think the reason folks want to get divorced is because they're looking ahead. I know very few who get divorced and not remarried. Surely Jesus wouldn't demand that we stay in an unhappy marriage, especially when there's so many other "eligible" people out there. Surely Jesus wouldn't deprive us of the highest satisfaction we are able to achieve for ourselves. Surely Jesus wouldn't expect us to stick with a decision for the rest of our lives. Surely the words, "What God has joined together, let no man separate" was just a rhetorical flourish and overstatement for the sake of the ceremony. Can anything that difficult be true?