“The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.
“Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” (Luke 16:17-18)
Law and gospel is what we have here, and the relationship of gospel to law. The law and prophets were till John. Actually there is a lot packed into this. The need for prophets ceased to be with John the Baptist, the concern of the prophets was fulfilled with Jesus preaching the good news. Anyone claiming to be a prophet in the sense of the Old Testament prophets, is a liar, is of necessity a false prophet. The New Testament refers to some as prophets in the age of the Apostles, but by then the word had taken on a different meaning, and with the passing of the apostles, this office of prophet also passed.
The Law and the prophets were till John, since then the good news of the kingdom is preached and everyone forces his way into it. Something new has happened. The Gospel has come, the gospel is preached, the good news of the kingdom, and everyone forces his way into it.
Forces his way into it. Such a strange phrase. Bo Giertz commenting on this phrase says that this is because true repentance is trusting in God’s promises of grace, as the catechism says. No longer, if there ever was a time when it was true, do we get into the kingdom by following the law. We grab hold of the kingdom with faith in the promise of salvation in Jesus Christ. We force ourselves into it by believing in the forgiveness of sins.
And yet the law remains. Not one dot of the law is lossed, it is easier for heaven to pass away. The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of the lord remains forever, this is just as true of his law as it is for his promises of grace. The law remains, even if our relationship to it has changed. We are no longer slaves of the law, but the law is our servant. No longer do we serve the law trying to earn salvation, but the law serves us because we have been saved. The law is an expression of God’s will that we try to follow out of love for God who has died for our sins. However bad we fail, it remains, and it may still accuse, but it can no longer condemn. So we love because he first loved us, and the law is an expression of God’s will, the will of love because God is love.
Jesus uses an example with divorce and adultery. This example has a peculiar history in Christendom. Tolkien advised C.S. Lewis not to marry Joy, because of this example, and actually a quite bad interpretation of all of it. At the time of Jesus, divorce was a simpler matter than it is today. Today, some 52 percent of divorces are initiated by women I remember reading somewhere at sometime. This would have been unheard of in Jesus day, well in Jewish communities anyway. In the upper classes of Rome and Greece it was not unheard of. In fact one wag of antiquity is cited in Kittel as saying women divorced to marry, and married to divorce.
It must be noted, the adultery committed is committed in the divorce. Adultery, is a much larger issue than actually bedding your neighbor’s wife or husband, which is at the root here. But a husband who has been cut off from sexual relations with his wife, has been just as cuckolded as if she bedded his friend. This too is sexual immorality, and falls under the heading of adultery. God’s plan is for husband and wife to love and honor and cherish one another, and that necessitates sex. But God’s law allows for divorce, Jesus says because of the hardness of your hearts. The certificate of divorce was supposed to be a sort of protection for the woman. It allowed her to move back in with her father and seek a new husband.
The problem is that the certificate also acted as a legitimization. As long as she could somehow secure the certificate, she was free to marry another man. What this really does, infact, is show the relationship of the tenth commandment to the sixth, you shall not covet your neighbors wife. Men are crafty, they search for the loopholes. This commandment shuts them down. Coveting, includes scheming. And though women in Jewish law had few rights and could not file for divorce, they could certainly behave in such a manner as to force their husband’s hand and get him to file for divorce.
Today, culture, even in Lutheran circles where our confessions recognize the right of an innocent party in a divorce to remarry, we have gone back to the medieval Roman Catholic notions concerning this divorce to declare remarriage after divorce to be adultery. We really read a lot of silly notions into these verses. Jesus is saying, don’t think that just because you got your neighbor to divorce his wife before you took her that you are not committing adultery. It really goes to the notion that merely lusting for the woman you have committed adultery with her. Jesus is not challenging the right of an innocent party in a divorce to remarry. Jesus would not have counseled C.S. Lewis not to marry Joy, not simply because she happened to be divorced.
But in what Jesus is saying, you see the new relationship to the law. No longer are we looking for loopholes in it, but we follow it in love for God who first loved us. In doing so, we recognize the spirit of the law. We recognize that God meant for husband and wife to love, honor and cherish one another. So we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s wife to leave her husband for us, thinking that if everything is done legally that makes it right. And in the end the only thing you can do is recognize that you are an adulterer, and force your way into the kingdom.