Monday Morning in the Preacher's Study
First thoughts about next Sunday's sermon
(19th Sunday after Pentecost, Oct. 4, 2015)
Job 1:1; 2:1-10 OR Genesis 2:18-24
Psalm 26 OR Psalm 8
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
God's will for humanity will be an ongoing theme for the Gospel readings in October as we spend all four Sundays in the 10th chapter of Mark. The move toward turning everything to an opportunity to teach about discipleship begins this week when some Pharisees test Jesus by asking whether divorce is lawful. Behind this question lies an easy answer of "yes" in http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=310355344%22%3EDeuteronomy%2024:1-4 and in texts in the Torah which assume divorce.
First century marriages were typically arranged by families. The wife became the property of her husband. Divorce then is a very pragmatic concern for the Jewish woman whose husband divorced her just because another woman caught his eye. Rules concerning divorce were primarily to safeguard a woman from the man too easily putting her out.
Beyond this, for Jews only the husband could divorce. Yet this interrogation takes place within the Roman Empire where wives could also divorce their husbands. Jesus treats both cases equally in telling his disciples that the one who gives the divorce commits adultery against their spouse, whether husband or wife. So, a wife who is divorced does not commit adultery in a new marriage, but her husband does when he seeks another woman. For God's ideal is that when the two become one flesh and are joined together by covenant, no human should separate them.
Jesus here is working with the interpretation of scripture in a more nuanced way in which one considers all of scripture to see what God intends. For as one who sums all the law and the prophets in loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself, that self-giving love which is the ideal can not be squared with easy divorce. This does not speak to remaining in abusive relationships. Here the concern is with upholding God's ideal whenever possible rather than looking for the limits of the permissible. Jesus often moves from a question about the loophole in the text to considering the spirit of the law.
The lectionary gives preachers an easy out with Jesus blessing children. Preaching on receiving the kingdom of God as a little child is certainly less controversial. Yet, avoiding that text might seem like unspoken judgment to a divorced person in the pew. So as I journey toward Sunday, I wonder about the life of discipleship that undergirds both of these texts. For preaching gracefully on Jesus' words about divorce might help rather than hurt divorced persons who will hear the sermon.
Jesus, who said we should hold banquets for those who cannot repay us, here blesses children who can offer nothing in return. This upside down view of the world flows from the self giving Agape love which is as foreign to a self-serving consumer culture as it was to a first-century culture concerned with shame and honor.
If I am only concerned about myself, then staying in a committed relationship when it becomes difficult, or when someone else catches my fancy, makes no sense. As baptized Christians, we have renounced all sinful desires that draw us from the love of God and pledged to persevere in resisting evil. Of course we are to seek faithfulness within marriage even as we seek to be faithful to God. Yes, divorce is an option that can be the only good choice in some situations, but as we serve Christ in all persons, we begin with those closest to us and move outward to those who can do nothing for us in return. For when we follow Jesus' method of looking beyond a given passage to God's intention found throughout scripture, we see that God intends a life of discipleship founded in self-giving love. So I am wondering how I might through this text preach living out the love of God through how we treat others.
Frank Logue is an Associate member of the APLM Council and has served as its secretary. He worked as a church planter in the Diocese of Georgia, starting King of Peace in Kingsland, before joining the diocesan staff in 2010 as the Canon to the Ordinary.