The Rev. Jennifer Adams – October 7, 2018 – Proper 22, Year B: Job 1:1, 2:1-10; Mark 10:2-16
Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. (Mark 10:2-16)
So one of the ways that I’ve come to think about Jesus’ message, is that he came to reset the ground rules, the ground rules for how we operate here. Here being “in the world,” and for that matter, “in the church” too. Now that’s a pretty basic interpretation of Jesus, and I have more to my Christology, should anyone out there be concerned about heresy. I do believe that the Son of God offered eternity in beautifully holy and life-giving ways. But deeply related to that vision and that salvific promise was Jesus’ presence and voice; alongside the gift of forever was his deep concern and compassion for the here and the now. Because the here and the now wasn’t working very well.
And so sometimes I need to go basic, and maybe you do too. I need to remind myself that God-who-so-loved-this-world (and loves it still,) responded to human pain and human need and human desire and capacity for joy. God sent Jesus into the world with ideas, and suggestions, some of which were given as commands or even offered as actual manifestations about how the here and the now could be better. And not just better but there here and the now could be more loving, more holy, more good in the way that “God saw it to be good” in the first place. Jesus came in part to reset the ground rules so that we could operate better here.
And today’s gospel is one of the passages that does just that.
Now I’ve printed copies of a sermon I preached a few years ago that addressed the issue of divorce head on. I’ve preached on that several times, because all of us whether directly or indirectly have been touched by divorce as children of divorced parents, or parents of divorced children, or as couples who have lived through divorce, or as friends or family of a couple who have, or simply as people who have remained married for entire adult lives yet have walked through extremely challenging times and know what it’s like to wonder.
Both life and this text have more going on than may initially appear. And so if you have questions or personal experiences that were touched by divorce and would like a sermon explicitly dedicated to that experience and this text please pick up that sermon and let me know if you’d like to talk some more. And remember that ultimately whatever your journey happens to be, this church community is committed to healing and offering faithful support.
In this passage, it was the question about divorce that Jesus used as the means by which to offer a reset. And that’s the approach I want to take today. The Pharisees, asked Jesus “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Note first that they were trying to set Jesus up, and sometimes understanding the motivation behind the questions matters. The Pharisees didn’t come to Jesus asking how to build healthy marriages, or how to strengthen them. They didn’t come asking how to care for people who were struggling with marriage, or how to help people heal when marriage broke, because sometimes they did.
The Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus and Jesus knew that and so in good Jesus fashion, he gave the question right back to them. “Well, what did Moses command you?” he asked. And they responded, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce his wife.” And that’s when Jesus said No. And he offered an opportunity to reset.
Because to divorce a woman was to cast her out, to exile her from her family, her community of faith and any means of support she had – financial, communal, spiritual. A woman literally had no means of recourse in the society nor in the religious community. She had no power in the decision-making process. It was very simply, legally and in terms of religious contract a process of dismissal.And that’s what was wrong. I really want us to hear that. There’s a lot to talk about in all of this, but this morning we can go right at the heart of this gospel.
Through this conversation, Jesus exposed the truth that there was a legal and a religious means by which one human being could dismiss another and to that Jesus said, “No” And he offered a reset. And he talked about belonging to each other, being created for each other and then he talked about being one flesh.
It’s a No we need to hear, not because divorce can never be a healing option. Not because to be divorced is to be placed on the list of “outside of love and God and church.” There is no such list – that’s part of the point. And sometimes, rarely, but sometimes in order for two human beings to stop dismissing each other, they need to stop be married to each other. But Jesus’ point is actually bigger than the question the Pharisees asked, and Jesus was in his response, crying out for them to let it be.
Because in some ways, we are all one flesh. I actually think that’s the point of this gospel. I think that’s the understanding that is the reset being offered by Christ. And that is a reset that we so very deeply need today, and so we should probably take up his offer.
We are all one flesh. Explained through covenant and new covenant if we speak in the language of our faith. Explained by the deeply intertwined realities of action and effect if we speak in terms of quantum physics, (which I obviously don’t.) Explained by the innate drive for human connection, if we speak in terms of secular humanism. I can go on and on with the list of religions, and areas of study, the bodies of people, and the deep longing for wholeness that proclaims not only a vision but an argument for this “one-flesh” insistence and why we hunger for it and really should live that way.
I can also make lists of what happens when we don’t function that way. But I don’t want to add to that list, because every day adds to that list.
What Jesus says in this passage is that we have options for how we understand the relationships we have with each other. We always have options and in today’s passage Jesus offered an option to what was so very wrong. And we need to hear it to. There can be no dismissals. Of any kind.
Which means that the questions themselves change. It is no longer “Who has a right to dismiss whom?” Instead the question is, “What can we do to strengthen the relationships we have, and establish those that we don’t, and heal those that are broken.?” And the “one flesh” idea might help us.
Because then one person’s hurt is ours too. Another person’s life is ours too. A brokenness in one body is a brokenness is ours too. And together being one flesh we can create something new. Something this world desperately needs but has not yet come together to make.
May the dismissals stop now, the inward and outward dismissals we make. It’s time to be one flesh, to create a new way together. With God’s help it can be so.