I watched an episode of the Netflix series The Crown this week which dealt with the saga over the proposed marriage of Queen Elizabeth’s younger sister Margaret, to Peter Townsend. The marriage never happened because it was opposed by both the church and parliament in England due to the fact that Townsend was a divorcee. The irony of the Prime Minister of the day, Sir Anthony Eden, also being a divorcee was not lost on the producers of the show :) This all took place in the mid-1950’s and it was interesting to see how societal and even church perspectives have shifted since this time. Of course, we still have a high view of Christian marriage and, in the words of the marriage service, we believe that it is “given by God and not to be entered upon or thought of lightly”. We also recognise however that, even with the best will in the world, sometimes marriages break down. Sadly, sometimes, when faced with multiple difficult alternatives, the wisest and most compassionate decision is to end a marriage.
This morning’s gospel reading includes a section on divorce (Matthew 5:31-32, which we have not read in the service today, but which you may have seen on the Journey App as you read the passages this week). On a literal reading of these verses, it would seem that Jesus opposes the remarriage of divorcees. I would argue though that that is an unhelpful interpretation, one that seems completely at odds with the compassionate picture of God we are given in the person of Jesus. While the will of God (and of all of us) is that marriage is for life, in situations where sadly a marriage has failed, would God really close the door on the redemptive possibilities of any future marriage? In the context of a larger passage focused on aspiring to the very best in the way that we relate to others, this would seem to me to be unhelpfully legalistic.
A difficult passage and a complex question! May we bring the same compassion, generosity and open-mindedness to our interpretation of other passages in the Bible which appear un-Christlike on a literal reading!
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