First Reading Genesis 2:18-24
Psalm Psalm 8
Second Reading Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Gospel Mark 10:2-16
“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
It would be easy to skip over the discussion of divorce and move straight into “Jesus loves the little children; all the little children of the world.” It might also be easy to preach the evils of divorce. A literal interpretation of the text would support this. But in doing either, we are not considering the wholeness of God’s word and revelation. In fact, if we simply look at scripture as Law, a list of do’s and don’t’s, we fall right in line with the Pharisees who are testing Jesus. They believe in a literal law of words, to be followed by the reckonings of human judgement, devoid of God’s will and purpose. They want to expose Jesus’ radical interpretations to the crowd, and suggest he does not believe in the law, the way to righteousness. Jesus offers the better way. Jesus encourages us to take on the difficult topics and wrestle with them. Questioning the law, and taking the matter to the highest source, is an aspect of discipleship.
Our reading from Genesis is a warm up for our discernment and interpretation. It is difficult to support God’s gender equality when many focus on woman’s purpose as a helper, that woman is made second, and man exercises authority to name woman, just as he names other creatures. But in such a literal reading, we miss the idea that God perceived that man was incomplete without woman. Woman is created as a helper, but also as a full partner, suggesting man is also a helper to woman. Most importantly, a man leaves his family and clings to his wife ... clings to his wife ... and the two become one flesh ... the two become one. This is God’s master design. There is no mention of obedience or dominance. No talk of one’s power over the other. No excuse for abuse or mistreatment of one other. We are designed to praise our Creator and join with one another for our mutual joy and support. We are all different, but we are made to be one.
It is interesting that the Pharisees choose to test Jesus on the Laws than pertain to divorce, to separation and division. The Pharisees could have asked about unity as a people, love and care for one another, or hope in God’s prophetic promise. Instead, they ask if it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife. He shrewdly turns the question back on the keepers of the Law and asks them what Moses commands. The Pharisees answer that a man may write a certificate of dismissal and divorce his wife. This is correct, but Jesus has asked a trick question. Moses does not make any command to divorce, but states it is allowed. Jesus explains that divorce is allowed because of the hardness of human hearts. Divorce is not the purpose of marriage. Marriage was created for unity, support, mutual service and joy. The Law sounds harsh toward women in this instance, suggesting a man might ‘dismiss’ his wife. But in this case, as in most, the Law shows compassion by protecting a woman from her former husband and any claims he may have against her. The possibility of divorce allows the woman freedom to pursue a new life. Even in the midst of discord and division, God provides a way to new life.
One possibility of what Jesus might be suggesting is that people are able to get divorced and remain righteous under the law. But he may also be saying two people cannot get divorced, not because of any laws or morality, but because it is simply not possible. Two people cannot discard or erase history, experience, and relationship. The sacrament of marriage joins two people in an indissoluble union. The two that are joined are always part of each other. They are no longer two, but one flesh. They may end contact, legal obligations, live apart, and begin new lives, but they will always be connected. “What God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Jesus is pushing back against the idea and practice of throwing another person away, as if throwing out the trash. Perhaps it is better that some separate. There are certainly those who try our patience, who are difficult to tolerate, and who in order to keep peace, we should avoid. God does not ask us to suffer relationships of abuse and violence. And we are not to judge others who must make difficult decisions to end relationships. But this does not mean the other party is no longer a child of God, created in God’s image, and of intrinsic value.
Jesus repeats this assertion when the disciples try to shoo away the little children approaching Jesus. In the first century, children are of little importance or value. The disciples are trying to keep the social order and protect Jesus from their attention. The disciples see children as a nuisance. Jesus sees them as a gift. They are so valuable to God, Jesus forbids the disciples from hindering the children. Further, Jesus identifies children as precisely those who will inherit the kingdom. In the kingdom of God, no one is left behind, no one is forgotten, no one is thrown away. God wants to reconcile to all of humanity, even the children. Jesus lays hands on them and blesses them. “What God has joined together, let no one separate.“
Jesus summarizes the Law very simply. If we were to compile Jesus’ do’s and don’t’s, it might look like this ... The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. Thus, the greatest sin is not loving God, or perhaps idolatry, loving something else more than God. The second commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. Thus the second greatest sin is not recognizing and loving others as much, perhaps more, that we love ourselves, no matter who they are. This includes the sin of schism, of considering another person as non-existent. There is no greater denial of another’s humanity than to turn one’s back and pretend they don’t exist. At least in heated debate, we consider one another important enough to stay at the table and work things out.
God created us to be one, with God and each other, even when wrestling through our differences, especially when working through differences. We are better together. In society, politics, and personal relationships, are we promoting differences or finding common ground? Are we just more comfortable fighting with one another, than abiding, respecting, and caring for one another? We are challenged to avoid justifying division and to claim unity. In the Incarnation, Jesus proclaims God’s solidarity with all of humanity. Through Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection and ascension, God continues to love us unconditionally. We are to continue loving one another, always, unconditionally. Let us stop crucifying one another. Let us claim God’s unconditional love. Let us offer ourselves in love to one another. Amen.