Mark 10: 2-16
October 7, 2012
Most days I am grateful for the lectionary. It keeps us honest and takes us through most of the Bible in a three-year cycle. We don’t get to talk about our favorite scriptures over and over…we have to deal with the scripture in front of us. Today I am not feeling so grateful for the lectionary. Yet, even today the lectionary leaves me an easy escape. I can jump to “Let the little children come to me.” Now that feels good. But I can’t step over the landmine of divorce as if it isn’t there. I would be willing to bet that every person in this room has been touched by divorce in some way – either you have experienced it yourself or someone close to you has been through it. It is rare to come through this life without experiencing the pain of divorce or a difficult breakup. So what do we do with the gospel lesson this morning?
The question “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” is a test. I’m not sure what the Pharisees were hoping for, but they knew there was no good answer to that question. Someone will be offended no matter what Jesus says. There are many questions like that. That seems to happen a lot in an election year. It feels like we are testing the candidates and asking them questions that will offend people in order to feel better about ourselves. Are we really deeply concerned about the greater good or do we just want to make the other candidate look bad so our candidate will win? I’ve seen this dynamic in many churches as well. Somewhere our personal agenda takes over and we lose sight of what is best for all. Jesus calls us back and asks us to think about the whole human family.
Divorce in those days could happen for any reason. A wife burns the toast one morning and the husband issues her a divorce decree that afternoon. The wife is then left with no resources and struggles to survive. Some say that Jesus was trying to equalize things a bit in his response so that the woman wouldn’t be so vulnerable.
I have performed a number of weddings and this is what I have seen…no one gets married thinking they will one day get divorced. Couples come in love and believing that marriage will be beautiful and good. If anything, they are not prepared when things get difficult, and they usually do. We spend a lot of time in premarital sessions talking about issues in a marriage – sex, money, extended family, work, children, conflict, spirituality, and communication. I’m sure it is helpful on some level, but I also see how difficult it is to imagine that things might be hard someday. Ted Loder says that he has reduced his premarital counseling to six words, “When you need help, get it.” (The Haunt of Grace, p. 70)
Here is the truth. Relationships are hard work. All of them. There are no exceptions. Even relationships that have relatively little conflict and both people seem to feel loved and equal are not effortless. They depend on both people working to create a loving space that will hold the strength and vulnerability of each one.
The Genesis text is often used to prove the male is superior, but Jewish tradition says it is important that the woman is made from the man’s rib. The intention is that they would be intimate and equal because she comes from a bone near the center close to the man’s heart. Note that she wasn’t made from his head so that she could be superior or from his feet so that she would be inferior. (http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2012/09/14/19-pentecost-proper-22-b-october-7-2012/)
The Psalm and Hebrews text remind us that humans are made in God’s image. Mark tells us to become like children to receive the kingdom of God. I’ve thought a lot this week about the words in this text on the subject of marriage and divorce. I’ve been thinking that perhaps Jesus is asking us to remember who we are. I wonder if Jesus’ call is to love. Period. Instead of asking how we can get out of love and compassion, Jesus wants us to be loving and compassionate without exception.
I went through a divorce several years ago. It was the most painful time in my life. I love my former husband and I am so grateful for him. We had a very loving marriage. I learned so much about love from him both during our marriage and during our divorce. I learned about a love that can let someone go even when it is something you don’t want. I have no desire to stand here and justify divorce. It is tragic.
Here is what I wonder as I read the passage again: is Jesus telling us how to be in relationship with each other? Is he telling us that we cannot divorce God? Is he telling us to love in all things?
I’ve been reflecting on a recent Christian Century (September 5, 2012) cover story (pp. 20-25). It is called “The Gospel in Seven Words.” In the article, some authors were invited to summarize the Christian message using a maximum of seven words. Here are some of their attempts:
“The wall of hostility has come down.” – Ellen T. Charry
“God, through Jesus Christ, welcomes you anyhow.” – Martin E. Marty
“In Christ, God calls all to reconciliation.” – Brian McLaren
I’ve been thinking about that this week and wondering how I might summarize the gospel in seven words. I think I would say, “You are God’s beloved. Act like it.”
It is easy to love when things are good. It is not so easy to love when they are rough. Can we love in the rough places? Can we continue to show up and show mercy to one another even when we’d rather not?
I am aware that the texts today refer to marriage between a man and a woman. I really don’t know what to make of the fact that Jesus never mentioned homosexuality. But, I am guessing we can all find ourselves in this text if we try. It might be helpful to hear how the Episcopal Church describes same sex blessings in the material from General Convention this summer:
“Our understanding of covenant thus derives first and foremost from the gracious covenant God makes with us in Christ…
Scripture and Christian tradition encourage us to see in these intimate relationships a reflection of God’s own desire for us…
Intimate couples who live in a sacred covenant find themselves swept up into a grand and risky endeavor: to see if they can find their life in God by giving it to another…
In the eucharist, we recall Christ’s willingness to give his life for the world: “This is my body, given for you.” When two people give their lives, their bodies, to one another in a lifelong covenant, they can discover and show how in giving ourselves we find ourselves (Matthew 16:25). When the Church pronounces God’s blessing on the vows of lifelong fidelity—for different‐gender and same‐gender couples alike—the Church makes a bold claim: the paschal mystery is the very root and source of life in the couple’s relationship.” (Faith, Hope, and Love: Theological Resources for Blessing Same-Gender Relationships pp. 194-195)
I love that phrase “in giving ourselves we find ourselves”. What more do we need to know? Jesus answers the Pharisees by saying, “You are asking the wrong question.” Have you considered giving yourself in order to find yourself? Perhaps the question for us today is simply this, “How shall we love one another?”