“Crossing a Minefield in a Fog”
4 October 2015
the Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches
Mark 10:2-16 (NRSV)
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.
One analysis of Pope Francis recent speech to congress
Made the point that
If one attempts to interpret his remarks
As viewed through the lens of modern, western American politics,
One will have missed his message entirely.
Indeed, the Gospel, the Good News is void of politics.
When we overlay our culture, opinions, politics, and values on top of the Gospel,
The Bible becomes a blunt force object useful for mortal combat, winning votes, and dividing families.
But not much else.
Turn it upside down.
When we allow the Good News of Jesus Christ to overlay our lives;
When the Gospel is allowed to covers over our culture, opinion, politics, and values, then
This Word that is made flesh.
This flesh is Jesus,
And he becomes the means of grace that forgives, redeems, and saves.
When we look at the Gospel for today,
Many will see a prohibition of homosexuality written all over it.
Many will be wrong.
Others will gasp out loud that Jesus has the audacity of condemning divorce with such a broad stroke.
“Oh my goodness.
Divorce is so prevalent today.
Didn’t Jesus have the foreknowledge
To have better left this hot-button topic alone?”
Others might protest,
“What about domestic violence, Jesus?
Shouldn’t domestic violence be an exception to your hard line commands on divorce?”
And take your foot off the accelerator.
To the feint of heart,
Today’s Gospel can leave one feeling like crossing a mine field in a fog.
As Pope Frances asks, so do I:
“Pray for me.”
Before jumping to any conclusions,
Lets back up for a moment and focus upon what we know.
First, consider the sitz en liben,
Or, the context of this passage.
The Pharisees are intent on destroying Jesus.
What they want is for Jesus to say something contradictory to the Law;
Which, of course, they know by heart and believe to be true.
This would give them sufficient evidence
To have him arrested, his ministry ended, ending their threat of losing control and popular support.
So they coyly ask him a question that they know the answer:
‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’
Jesus has no intention of being arrested prematurely.
On two previous occasions in the Gospel of Mark
Jesus taught his disciples about his forthcoming passion, death, and resurrection.
It was going to happen according to his terms, timing and needs.
The Passion was not going to happen preemptively, prematurely, or contrary to His Father's will.
Jesus knows their motives.
He knows what they are seeking.
Here, an opportunity presents itself.
So he forehands the ball back into their court:
“‘What did Moses command you?’”
“They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.’”
Technically, their answer from the 24th chapter of Deuteronomy is correct.
Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house and goes off to become another man’s wife. Then suppose the second man dislikes her, writes her a bill of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house (or the second man who married her dies); her first husband, who sent her away, is not permitted to take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that would be abhorrent to the Lord, and you shall not bring guilt on the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession.)
But if you read it over carefully,
It is obvious to even the casual reader
That the Pharisees take this verse out of context
And incorrectly apply it to all incidences of divorce.
The context of Deuteronomy 24, verses 1 through 4, is this:
If a woman does not please her husband, he is able to write a certificate of divorce.
If she marries another and her second husband is not pleased, or dies,
Then it is not permitted for her to return to her first husband,
For that would bring guilt to the people God has blessed.
Taking a scripture passage out of context and using it for your own ends is called “Proof Texting.”
The Devil quoting scripture to Jesus in the wilderness
Is no different than these Pharisees attempting to use scripture to trap Jesus this morning.
This strategy was a violation of Holy scripture two thousand years ago,
And proof texting remains a violation today.
The Pharisees answer is an expected male response,
Reflective of a male dominate, authoritarian ancient world.
All the power is given to the man.
No power, self-determination, or authority had been given to the woman.
It is as if she has no value, no say, control, no status; it is as if she were property or a slave.
Indeed, this is how women were treated in the time and culture of Jesus.
This is the opportunity that presents itself!
This becomes the effort of Jesus
– to confront the injustice inflicted against women
By male authorities in organized religion
Whose motives were
And defiling to God.
This is not following the corporate values of an all loving, all merciful, all forgiving God!
“Jesus said to them,
'Because of your hardness of heart
He (that would be Moses) 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.'”
Do you see what Jesus is doing here?
Jesus elevates the position and status of women
To equal that of men,
Correcting the Pharisees' wrong interpretation of the Law of Moses,
Perpetuated by the very ones entrusted with the stewardship of legal purity.
God made them male and female,
Each in Imago Dei,
Each in the image of God.
They are no longer two, but one.
Equal in every way.
What else do we know?
Consider the point Jesus makes to finalize the concern
“what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
At a later time,
Away from the threat of the Pharisees,
In a much more safe environment,
Jesus concludes with his disciples,
“‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her;
And if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’”
- Mark 10:11-12
The guilt of adultery is now equally shared.
It is no longer always the guilt of the woman,
As it is implied by the Law of Moses from Deuteronomy.
With Jesus, guilt for adulterous behavior is an equal responsibility of both husband and wife,
And guilt is correctly laid at the feet of the offender.
Guilt is correctly laid at the feet of the offender,
As it should be.
There is more here than meets the eye.
I believe that it is completely justifiable that this statement
– “what God has joined together, let no one separate” –
Does not preclude the future action of God.
Just as we have free will,
So, too, does God preserve the free will to act at in some future time and circumstance.
There may be a time
That God might so choose to initiate
A permanent separation of a husband and wife
For God's good purposes.
While humankind is warned not to make the separation,
God reserves the right to respond to failures and crisis in the human condition,
Especially in cases of spousal abuse and violence;
Unjustly inflicted by one partner upon another.
The intention of Moses' adultery laws is to maintain fidelity.
Fidelity keeps the faithful community healthy.
Marital fidelity prevents families from being destroyed.
Fidelity builds healthy relationships and keeps them nourished.
Adultery violates families and it hurts children.
Adultery breaks down trust.
Infidelity is a selfish act,
A violent act,
A sinful act.
This is why, I believe,
Jesus says what he says in regards to adultery and divorce.
Whoa to the one who attempts to separate
Those whom God has joined together.
No one needs to worry about being judged by me.
As far as I am concerned,
As long as one is acting according to God's will,
These words of Jesus gives assurance to those seeking divorce,
Due to a violation of trust, abuse or violence.
If it is God's will, then God is the primary actor, initiating the separation.
If it is God's will due to violence or abuse,
Then it is not you, but God working through you, that brings about separation.
Of course, there is always the question of God's will or human desire.
I'll leave that up to you and your God.
I can't, and won't be the judge of that.
If your motive is of the flesh,
If it is not pure in any way, shape, or form,
You will have to answer to a higher judge, the Lord Almighty at some future point.
The last one you have to worry about is me!
Finally, we know that serious disciples of Christ
Must evaluate this narrative, and all Gospel narratives,
While at the same time, considering Jesus' larger ministry,
Which sought out the marginalized, the poor, the diseased, the last, the lost, the least;
Especially women and children.
Jesus heals a hemorrhaging woman,
Raises from the dead the daughter of another,
Cast out demons from the child of a third.
Jesus speaks with a divorced woman at Jacob's well in the fourth chapter of John,
Discerns her broken nature and loss,
And offers her the gift of living water.
Obviously, Jesus is not condemning those who are divorced.
He has far more important fish to fry.
Jesus is concerned with larger items than condemnation.
He is concerned with building the Kingdom of God.
He came to complement the Law of Moses with the Grace of God.
He comes to right the wrongs of injustice, violence, and poverty.
He comes to bring people to repentance, to grant forgiveness, and salvation into eternal life.
When we consider all the evidence,
And focus upon what we know,
This passage of Jesus speaking about divorce takes on new meaning.
The focus is upon elevating the status of women and children,
Encouraging fidelity in marriage,
Equalizing the burden of guilt regarding adultery and divorce,
And not allowing the focus of Jesus' life, passion, death, and resurrection to be wrongly stolen.
Dearly beloved, if you have heard the Gospel,
You know that it is not Jesus' intention to condemn the world.
It is Jesus’ intention that the world might be saved through him.