Let Your Adornment…

Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery. – Luke 16:18

If you do a study of divorce in the New Testament, but especially in the Gospels, you’ll soon notice that what Jesus said about it is not consistently reported. In Matthew 5:32 Jesus includes one reason for which divorce is permitted: adultery. So why did Luke leave it out? I mean he is clear that he has researched these things and if the exemption is included in Matthew the most likely Luke was aware of it, right? To compound the matter, Luke 16:18 seems out of place. Jesus isn’t discussing divorce and, unlike in the other gospels, he isn’t asked about it.

Don’t decorate yourself with people. Jesus never did.Generally, when things don’t fit you’re missing something. There are very few cases where texts are probably not where they belong (i.e. John 7:53, 8:11 and Mark 16:9-20). There is no textual evidence that Luke 16:18 doesn’t belong there so the question is, “Why did Luke cite this teaching where he did?”

Well, one of the nice things about reading through Luke in a year instead of sticking with the reading plan I have used is that I can slow down and spend some time meditating on something like this. That’s just what I did and here’s what I’ve come up with. All of this is currently subject to revision and review.

The context the teaching on divorce finds itself in is this:

16:1-13 Parable of the Dishonest Manager
16:14-17 Confrontation with the Pharisees
16:18 Divorce
16:19-31 The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

So what do all of these sections have in common? The Dishonest Manager is about using our resources wisely and righteously. The confrontation with the Pharisees is over their love of money and rejection of Jesus. The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is about using wealth in this life righteously. All of them hover around use of money and power. 1Remember, these are subject to change. I’ve only done one reading so far.
Dropped right in the middle of that is this rather abrupt statement about divorce. Perhaps the reason it is here with no prompting and no further explanation is because of the way the Pharisees used marriage and divorce. Women couldn’t inherent property in Israel (with certain exceptions) and so a man might marry simply to get the land. Then divorce a woman, keeping the property and then marry again either for love or more money. If that is the case, then Jesus’ statement would be a real gut punch to them.

So how does this affect us? I mean aside from the obvious prohibition on divorce? How does the context influence the application? I think it fits with the proper use of resources. People aren’t resources and are not to be used. Lazarus should have been cared for. The dishonest manager should have handled the rich man’s property well and had his debtors as friends because he helped them. Luke tells us right out that the Pharisees loved money (16:14).

For us, then, we may not use relationships as means to get what we want. We’re to honestly care for people and love them, not use them as stepping stones. This sounds like “duh” but the sin goes deeper. We tend to gravitate to people who are better looking and/or more popular or powerful. But Jesus often hung around with those on the fringes of society. Lepers, prostitutes, tax gatherers, the poor. Check your heart on this one. James warns us in 2:1-13 about this very thing. I used to be a bit puzzled when he said, “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (2:9). Where in the Law did it say that? Well, I think if we catch what Jesus is saying here, we can begin to get an idea. Don’t decorate yourself with people. Jesus never did.

1 Remember, these are subject to change. I’ve only done one reading so far.
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