Marriage, Divorce, and an Ox in a Well
Luk 14:1-6 One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. (2) And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. (3) And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” (4) But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. (5) And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” (6) And they could not reply to these things.
One of the prevalent dangers in the church – especially in the conservative, Bible-believing church like the one I pastor – is that of falling prey to wooden, literalistic interpretation of Scripture that totally misses the heart of God and thus the real spirit of a particular passage. The error is the same as the Pharisaical handling of the Scriptures Jesus confronted here. The day of Sabbath rest was turned into “no work is to be done on the Sabbath,” and that included even works that showed mercy to those in need. Nope, can’t eat on the Sabbath if you have to make a sandwich – you can just go hungry. Nope, can’t heal someone.
Jesus took these knuckleheads to their own hypocrisy. If their son or even their oxen fell into a pit or a well on the Sabbath, what was their common response? “He will just have to stay there and perish. He should have picked one of the other six days to fall in there. Look, everyone, at how holy I am. I am so pious that I am even willing to let my son suffer or die rather than violate this Sabbath day.” Ooooh. Aaaaah. Yeah, oh man, what a holy guy. Not! God’s love and mercy and care for human beings and even animals does not cease on the Sabbath! He still feeds them and cares for them and yes, even pulls them out of a well if they fall in. The Lord of the Sabbath effects works of mercy on the day of rest.
Now here’s the deal. Abuse victims are in a pit. Yes, God’s intent is that marriage be a blessing. A life-long blessed covenant between a man and a woman. Love, honor, cherish – the whole thing. One flesh, self-sacrificing love. But sometimes it just isn’t. Why? Because of sin. Because some husbands (and some wives) are just plain evil, cruel despots out to dominate and use and inflict pain. In other words, abuse victims have fallen into a pit.
So let me ask you this, Mr. or Mrs. preacher of “thou shalt never divorce for any reason, not even for abuse,” what do you do when a dog is being cruelly treated by his master? A dog. Or a cat. Or a hamster. A horse. There the critter is, skin and bones out in the pasture. Starving. He knocks his water bucket over. Or the dog chews up a shoe (or commits some even more minor infraction like whining because he is hungry). You see the owner beating that animal and cursing it. Kicking it. Depriving it even more of food and water. Teasing and toying with it. What will you do?
Unless you are of the same ilk as that cruel master (and frankly, I believe that some of you people who mistreat abuse victims are indeed of the same ilk as the abuser), you will be reporting that cruelty to animals to the authorities and have that dog or horse or even a pet rodent rescued!! You will be calling for justice.
And so I ask you – no, no – JESUS CHRIST asks you, “which one of you, seeing a dog being beaten, will not rescue that dog from the ‘covenant’ of dog ownership?” The punch line almost need not even be stated, but here it is anyway:
“If you are ready to rescue a dog from cruelty and bondage, why do you refuse to rescue a human being from the same? Why do you forbid divorce, denying it to people who are wickedly treated and persecuted by a spouse who does not and never has kept the marriage covenant?” Many of you who preach this no-divorce for abuse line are very loud voices when it comes to the righteous opposition to abortion. And yet, when that baby whom you are so zealous to protect from violence now becomes an adult and marries a wicked man, you leave them in bondage even if their life is in danger.
God’s mercy and kindness and His justice for the oppressed must never be sacrificed in our interpretation of His Word, else we join ranks with the Pharisees. Now go, and learn what God really requires.