8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”
11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” Matthew 19:8-12 (NIV)
To understand these verses, we may be wise to put ourselves in the disciples’ shoes because our idea of the permanence of marriage goes no deeper than it did for the disciples 2000 years ago. What are the consequences of divorce and adultery today? They’re about the same as the disciples thought – None. Not only did they think they could divorce their wives for any reason under the sun, they thought they could circumvent marriage and still sign up for intimate encounters on Ashley Madison. This is the image of single adults that the church puts forward today – extended adolescence with no responsibility. For the Protestant preacher, a single adult is someone who is having illicit sex and pretending to be married. They are the women who need to become respectable. They are the men who need to man up. How can I say that so confidently? If the only two Biblical options for humans on this earth are heterosexual marriage and celibacy, how much time has your preacher spent at the pulpit talking about celibacy? If there are more unmarried people today than married, doesn’t that mean there are more people called to be celibate before marriage or celibate for a lifetime?
Matthew 19 is not a parable. It is a truth, a description of reality. The truth includes both marriage and celibacy, regardless of what the polls and surveys say. If there was only one person alive with the gift of celibacy high up in the Himalaya Mountains, every preacher and testifier to the grace of God still has the responsibility of spending equal amounts of time covering both. Unfortunately, most churches today, like the skeptical disciples, spend more time talking about divorce. Even more tragic, churches are spending more time talking about perversions like homosexuality and sodomy. They will never be able proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ in reactionary mode with branded catch phrases like “universal love” and “convictional kindness.” All that does is grandfather in more approval and affirmation of the divorce culture of the past and give a nod and wink to the “if it feels good it must be right” theology of today. And did you notice that Christ used the permanence of marriage in Matthew 19 to reinforce the permanence of celibacy?
Imagine that divorce is like a jet fighter pilot bailing out when the going gets rough, as the disciples saw it. He may have some cuts and bruises, but he’ll probably be able to walk away from it. Now, imagine a group of military fighter pilots in training. The instructor explains to them that 1 g = the force of gravity, or 1 x their body weight. Then he tells them that very few humans can withstand more than 5 g-forces without losing consciousness and more than likely dying from complications. But since he doesn’t know which ones of them (if any) have that ability, he proceeds to tell them how to operate the flight controls when they are in a tight turn and pulling more than 10 g-forces. He ends it by telling them to be sure they have no other humans or animals on board because they will be dead when they land on the runway. “If you smell something funny, check for a dead soldier somewhere in the cockpit because very few people can survive those kinds of forces.” I know that is a weak attempt at a 21st century version of Christ’s metaphor of the eunuch. But I think you get the picture. Some people have the ability to pull super-human g-forces. Some people have the ability to control their biological drives. You have the responsibility to find out what you can and cannot do.
When you think of a eunuch, do you think of part of a man’s anatomy missing? A scalpel? When you think about a dead combat pilot in the cockpit of a plane, do you think of foul play? A murder? If you do, you definitely belong in the disciples’ shoes. We have to be willing to let Christ briefly suspend what we think we know about a eunuch and understand how difficult and uncommon the gift of celibacy is. How difficult? I think that gets to the heart of the reason he chose the metaphor of a eunuch to describe people who can accept such a calling. A person’s ability to submit their entire life and body to the will of God, including sexual desire, is just as difficult as a man castrating himself. That’s how difficult. The disciples’ dreams of extended adolescence were dashed. No more fun without commitment. For those of them who were married, it may have sounded like a death sentence. The first thing that flashed through the disciples’ minds upon hearing the word “eunuch” was probably not riding off into the sunset with three or four women on the backs of their camels and a couple of bottles of wine. It was probably more like you thought – a knife, some screams, and a lot of blood. That’s precisely what Christ wanted us to think, before he redefined the word eunuch.
Do you have a passion for something that is off the beaten path and so far out of this world that you feel no one relates to you? Are you willing to be put under the knife and risk your life to see that it gets done? For instance, it could be supplying water to a third world country or rescuing orphans whose parents were killed in civil wars. Is your passion for this so much a part of your identity that you can see the face of God in it? Do you feel that not having had a sexual relationship allows you to better relate to the people you are called to help? Do you feel that a sexual relationship would take away a part of you that is important to carry out your mission? If so, then God may have given you the ability to withstand the forces of sexual desire and fly a little higher than his creation on earth. He may have allowed you to look directly into the Son without getting burned.