Read Matthew 5:31-32
31-32 “Remember the Scripture that says, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him do it legally, giving her divorce papers and her legal rights’? Too many of you are using that as a cover for selfishness and whim, pretending to be righteous just because you are ‘legal.’ Please, no more pretending. If you divorce your wife, you’re responsible for making her an adulteress (unless she has already made herself that by sexual promiscuity). And if you marry such a divorced adulteress, you’re automatically an adulterer yourself. You can’t use legal cover to mask a moral failure. (THE MESSAGE)
This paraphrase of Jesus’ teaching spells out what is the real issue. This passage is part of Jesus’ teaching which gets behind the legalism common in his day. In this case, divorce had become part of life, and it was seen as acceptable as long as the legalities were observed. Jesus says that merely having a legal document doesn’t resolve the issue. What is legal may not be what is right.
Of course this passage raises great interpretive and pastoral problems. And we need to remember Jesus is speaking in the context of pharisaical debate about marriage and divorce. Is sexual misconduct the only grounds for divorce? How does divorce make a woman an adulteress? Taken at face value, it seems Jesus is saying at least some of those in our churches who are now remarried are in adulterous relationships. Which would mean they ought to get divorced—but this is just what Jesus is opposing!
There are complexities in the divorce and remarriage issue. It seems Jesus is getting us back to the original intention of marriage. It is not a casual relationship. It is not a mere legal entity. Whatever else we struggle to understand, we dare not take marriage or divorce lightly. Remarriage (which is seemingly allowed elsewhere in the Bible), may be a wonderful fresh start but can also be a repeat performance of an earlier failure.
Marriage, ultimately, is not built on a bit of paper but on the heart and the will of fallible human beings.