Posts Tagged ‘ relationship ’

teaching on divorce?

The following is my sermon from this past Sunday (Proper 22, Year B) as preached at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, San Antonio…

Read the Gospel text from this past Sunday here.
Listen to the following sermon here.

I’ll say this: it’s a difficult Gospel passage to deal with.
Jesus seems pretty straightforward in this teaching about divorce,
he sounds pretty clear. You and I might read in the topical indexes of our Bibles that this passage is about divorce.  But I don’t think it’s really about divorce– I think it’s about something even bigger, perhaps even more difficult than that.

Let’s go back to the story a minute.
The Pharisees come to Jesus in order to trap him, to trip him up, to catch him saying something incriminating so that they could charge him.  So they ask him a LEGAL question, “Jesus, is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

And that’s a question that has only one right answer in that context: YES. It is within the law.

Moses, the very figure-head of the law himself, had provided a legal way for men to write a certificate of dismissal so that they could be rid of their wives.  And at that time and in that culture, this divorce would leave the woman with nothing: no social status, no income, no way of providing for herself or her children, out on the street, completely vulnerable.

And if the legal system that is in place is one that allows a man to do that to his wife at any time for any reason, then she is always vulnerable, always at risk, with little or no voice of her own in the matters of her marriage.  The Pharisees’ trap constrains the whole matter to what the law will allow.

Sadly, I think you and I have our own 21st Century Christian way of getting stuck in that same trap.

We hear or read Jesus’ words in the passage, all he says about divorce, remarriage and adultery and we get stuck there. We make his words on these matters LEGAL: “Jesus said this about divorce, so that’s the law for good Christians.” 

But in the story,  Jesus actually refuses to render a legal judgment on this difficult, complex issue. Instead, as he almost always does, he turns the question on its head, shifting the basis of their conversation from the legal to the theological, from what the law will allow to what God dreams for our relationships with one another. Jesus, who always seeks protection for the most vulnerable, breaks open the whole conversation by pointing the Pharisees NOT to the law, NOT to Moses, but all the way back to the beginning, back to Genesis, back to the way we were created, to the very story we heard read earlier this morning.

Moses gave you this law [Jesus says to them] because your hearts have become so hardened, because you’ve gotten so far away from the kinds of relationships you were created for…from the beginning of creation, ‘God made you 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.

Reimagine that whole creation scene with me.
This creative God of ours has created all that is, has even created human life out of the dust, has breathed life into that clay figure’s nostrils and has brought into being Admah, Adam.

And then God decides that Admah should not be alone so the creator proudly parades all the animals he has created in front of the man.  And with each animal, Adam ponders awhile and then names them.

And I imagine Adam’s creativity at first: rhinoceros, hippopotamus, platypus…and then, after hundreds of animals, and hours of naming things, he’s totally spent:  “Another one?!? Of for the love of God, call it…dog.”  And God says, “Oh Adam, come on, that’s just my name spelled backwards.”

So all of the animals are brought to Adam but a help-meet is not found that was his equal.

So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then God took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man God made into a woman and brought her to the man.

This translation says “one of his ribs” but the Hebrew actually says “from the man’s side…the Lord God took from the man’s side and made that into another being, a woman.” This has huge implications that stretch beyond this Genesis story well into this morning’s difficult Gospel passage, and certainly into our own lives today.  Woman created from man’s side implies that, if humanity is true to the way we are created, she is never to be beneath him, but always along side him, always his equal.  That’s what help-meet means.

And in this garden that they are living in, the two human beings maintain that right relationship with one another, and they live in right relationship with God, and in right relationship with all of creation.  And those right relationships are what makes the garden the garden – the kind of Kingdom that God created us all to live and move and have our being in, and it was very good.

This morning’s Gospel passage is difficult not because it’s an ethical, legal teaching on divorce but because it’s Jesus reminding us how far off we are from the Garden life that God dreams for us.  And it was hard for his disciples and the Pharisees back then for the same reason.

The relationship between a husband, who at anytime has the right to toss aside his bride, and a wife, who has no voice in the matter and is always at risk of becoming destitute based on the whims of her husband, is not a relationship of help-meets, not the right relationship that we are created for, and she is certainly not his equal.

You and I are created to be in Garden-like relationships.

It’s how we are wired, even when it’s not how we act.  That’s God’s dream for us, for humanity.

Which is exactly why divorce hurts so much.
And not just for those who are the ones divorcing, but for the parents of those divorcing, their friends, their children, the whole community.
Divorces of any form of relationship, not just marital ones, hurt so much because they are the breaking apart of how we were made and Jesus knew that.

So his teaching in this morning’s gospel is less about personal condemnation for the legal act of divorce (which is probably the response the Pharisees were hoping for) and more about God being against the breaking of relationships, against the rending of human community, against that which tears help-meets apart, which is the very connection he created us for.

The Gospel, the Good News in this is that even when these relationships we were created for break apart, even when we don’t live into the kinds of Garden People God dreams of us being, even when divorces happen for all the right reasons or all the wrong ones, that’s not the end of the story.

Those of us that have experienced any kind of divorce and yet found new life on the other side of the pain and hurt know this to be true: God doesn’t give up on God’s dream. Even when we are as far from Eden as we think we’ll ever be. That’s what God’s faithfulness means.  And that is Good News.