19th Pentecost (B)
Gen 2:18-24; Heb 1:1-4,2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16
This text makes a lot of people squirm a bit. It’s easy to become uncomfortable with Jesus, especially if you’re one of the multitude of Christian people who are divorced. Even more so if you’re remarried. What do I say to my mother, who in twice divorced? Or to my sisters, one who is on her third marriage and the other in her second? What do I say when people with good hearts and good intentions find themselves in situations where divorce is actually the best option available?
I’ll tell you what I say—I say trust the integrity of scripture; which means don’t read it superficially! Some people us scripture to justify what they already believe. So if they’re confronted by a hard text, they either ignore it or bend it to their own point of view.
That is not our way. As Lutheran Christians, particularly as ELCA Lutheran Christians, the written Word of God is too significant a gift for us to treat it so casually. We are people of the Word, and aren’t afraid of what the Holy Spirit may reveal to us in the Bible. So we consider texts like this in faith and openness, trusting that a God of grace, mercy, and unconditional love will meet us there.
You don’t have to dig very deep to see that divorce has never been against God’s law. Jesus asks the Pharisees, and they summarize Deuteronomy 24:1, which allows for divorce, and always has.
What Jesus points out, however, is that ending relationships, including marriage, isn’t what God intends. And yet, because God knows we are hard-hearted (another way of speaking of our brokenness and sinfulness) even the strictest interpretation of the law recognizes that there are times when divorce is the best available option. No one wants a marriage to end, but sometimes it is the most gracious option left.
Jesus doesn’t have a problem with that. Instead, he quotes another part of scripture, from Genesis 2, saying that God’s desire for us is to be in loving, nurturing relationships that give life. Because we’re broken people, that doesn’t always work out. That’s why we need grace and forgiveness, because we can’t always live as God would like us to. We are broken, and the world is broken, and the situations in which we find ourselves can be broken, including our relationships. Relationships, including marriage, are meant to be beneficial to us—we aren’t created to live a life separated from others.
Which is why Jesus answers his disciples later about all this. He’s telling them that divorcing someone just so you can marry the next person is serious. Throwing away one close, intimate relationship in order to begin a new one is destructive, it flies in the face of God’s intention for relationships, it is sinful, it is adultery.
And remember, we aren’t superficial with scripture. Adultery isn’t as simple and clear-cut in the ancient world. Marriages then were complicated, large family covenants of honor and respect, involving everyone—not just the couple. For Mark’s community, these verses around divorce, remarriage, and adultery are actually really vague.
You don’t learn to fly by studying how to crash. You don’t win football games by learning how to fumble. And you don’t live in life-giving relationships by knowing divorce law. Christ’s intention is to reinforce what God was doing when God gave us other people to be in relationship with. We thrive in relationships, the closer the better. The destruction of relationships is painful and harmful. But it’s the relationship that is key. It’s actually pretty simple: strong relationships give life. Destructive relationships take it away. This is God’s creation. It’s who we are.
We have life in our relationships. We support and encourage one another in our relationships—not because it’s an obligation but because it’s God’s gracious gift to us in relationships. It’s the very nature of God that we act together for the benefit of one another, in support of one another, in love for one another. That’s how God relates to us, that’s how God made us, that’s how we live the baptismal life we have in Christ.
“Make it Simple” is what we are saying these stewardship weeks. So very simply put, we, as Christian people, are Acting Together. When some of us hurt, we all hurt. That’s what it is to be in a relationship. When some of us celebrate, we all celebrate. That’s what it is to be in a relationship. Wen some of us need help, we all help. That’s what it is to be in a relationship. When some of us have more than we need to live on, we share with those who don’t. That’s what it is to be in a relationship.
It’s quite simple. We are acting together for the sake of one another. We share what we have because in Jesus we are in relationship with those who have less. Our attitude is no longer about how much we can get for ourselves, but how we can love and support others with what we have. We look at money, not as something we keep, but something we share for the sake of others. The more we act out of loving relationship with others, the more life we have; the more we are living in the very nature of a loving God.
It’s not a coincidence that Jesus follows up his teaching on marriage and divorce by blessing the most vulnerable and most helpless ones in the community—the children. Relationship means we are acting together. So we walk with the vulnerable and the hurting who are around us. We share what we have with them, we give away our money for their sakes.
Come next week to worship. Be ready to step into a newer, fuller relationship with Jesus, Be ready to act together for the sake of our brothers and sisters. Be ready to commit to giving away a portion of your income. Relationships are key. That’s the nature of God. It’s who we are in Christ. As we give what we have, we strengthen our relationships with God and with others. And that is what God intends.