Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Meditation on This Week's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, October 4, 2009:

First Reading: Genesis 2:18-24

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Job 1:1; 2:1-10

Psalm: Psalm 8

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 26

Second Reading: Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

Gospel: Mark 10:2-16

All across America, I imagine that mainstream pastors plan to preach on the Old Testament, Psalm, or Second Reading, instead of the Gospel this week. With so many divorced and remarried people in the congregation, who wants to touch the Gospel text? Verse 10, "What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder," has probably been slung around more often than just about any other Gospel verse, and I suspect, not always with the intent of making people's lives better.

But let's look at the text again, with different eyes. Note that the question is about the ability of men to divorce their wives. Of course it is. Women couldn't divorce their husbands nearly as easily under the ancient laws (Roman and Jewish) which governed the audience of Jesus. You might see this lesson as part of the whole lesson that Jesus preaches again and again, that lesson about caring for the poor and destitute and outcast, for those on the lower rungs of society. In some ways, this admonishment protected women, who under the law, didn't have much protection if their husbands wanted to cast them aside. And under the law, women cast aside didn't have much in the way of economic sustenance.

The Gospel lesson closes with yet another story of Jesus and children, which helps to frame the lessons about divorce and lead us back to thinking about our mission to protect the weak and the vulnerable. In almost every society, who is more weak and vulnerable than children? Even old people have more protection. Most societies like to think that they prize children, but look at how they spend their money, and you'll see a different story. Jesus, however, reminds us that children belong to the Kingdom of God, and that we must become like children to enter it.

The traditional interpretation of this part of the Gospel would be that Jesus is talking about Heaven, that place where we go when we die. Yet modern scholarship tells us that Jesus used that word, "Kingdom," differently. He's talking about a future time, but also our present time, the now and the not yet. Jesus came to tell us that the Kingdom of God was breaking through to reclaim the world. It's fabulous news. We don't have to wait until we die to experience the good life.

But of course, the paradox remains: we're still part of a fallen world, part of a world waiting for redemption. How do we cope with that reality and the message of Jesus?

Many humans respond by creating laws and conveniently ignoring the fact that the message of Jesus is one of grace and love, not of law. We see the Pharisees testing Jesus on issues of the Law, and Jesus snapping back. One can almost hear him thinking, we have so much to do and you're bothering me with questions of divorce and taxes? Before we get too self-righteous, thinking that we're not like those blasted Pharisees, we might remember that in the mainline church, we've spent quite a long time debating homosexuality. We may have settled the question of divorce for ourselves, but we're still getting tangled in these issues of Law and Righteousness.

I can imagine that Jesus would be impatient with us and say, "Honestly, are you still arguing over these issues of which love is legitimate and which love isn't? Haven't you put on your child eyes yet?"

I recently spent time with my three year old nephew, which often changes the way I approach the world and helps me understand these Bible passages that revolve around children. My nephew is the most non-judgmental person I know, and it's a delight to spend time with him. He wants us to dance around the living room, and he doesn't care how stupid we look. He wants us to draw him a picture of a truck, and while he'll offer suggestions, he has never crumpled up the paper and told me never to draw again. He delights in the world in a way that most adults have forgotten how to do.

I imagine God is much the same. We've got a wonderful world here, and we often forget how fabulous it is. We get so hung up on all the ways we think the world has gone wrong that we forget what is right. We spend time creating laws to try to control behavior, when we might do better to simply accept people for who they are, which is a major step towards loving them. We want to see the world in strict colors: black, white, no gray. We forget that the world is variegated. If we can leave the land of Law behind and enter the world of Love, we'll see a world washed in color, all of it good. We'll know what God knew, way back in Genesis, that the Creation is good, very good.


Kristin said...

I'm moving this comment here, since it refers to this posting; it was originally here:

John Graff said...

As a member of St Marks and long time friend of your parents I read, and have welcomed, your thoghts shared with us through the St. Mark website.

I must say, however, that I find your offering this week to be off base. You speak as though the law has no place in modern theology. We need not be concerned about divorce, for example, because love trumps everything.

Not so. Jesus made it quite clear that he did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. God is a god of both love and justice. His children will be held accountable (we know not how) for their failure to live life as he would have us do.

Divorce is a violation of God's desires for us. To be sure, divorce is no greater or lesser a sin than any other but it is a sin.
The propensity of people to think that their marriage vows are meaningless and that they can destroy a marriage for any reason whatever is not consistent with biblical or church teaching.

It may be difficult to discuss this because it is so widely practiced, but that is not a reason for the church to avoid discussing it.

John Graff

September 30, 2009 8:31 PM

Kristin said...

Thanks for your thoughts on this topic. I've given much thought to the subject of divorce, and honestly, I can see it in a variety of ways. I know that some people give up on marriage too easily. But I can't believe that all marriages are created equal. Is an abusive marriage what God wants for us? Is the greater sin to stay in the marriage or to leave? I could go on and on, but I'm guessing we could all come up with a variety of examples to support the different sides of this issue. It's a tough one!