Proper #22…Series B
Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church (October 7th, 2018)
Text: Mark 10: 2-16
Title: East of EDEN!!
In today’s Gospel, the “Fastidious Pharisees…the Religious Know-it-Alls” of 1stcentury Palestine, approach Jesus with a question: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife??”. Friends, this was not a serious question. The Pharisees knew that divorce was legal…they knew that in Deuteronomy 24: 1-4 Moses allowed men (not women, but only men) to write a certificate of divorce, to write on a piece of paper “I DIVORCE YOU” and, legally, the relationship was terminated… the marriage was over!
So the Pharisees (as well as everyone else in Israel) knew that divorce was legal…and the Evangelist Mark tells us that when they asked Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife” they were really putting Jesus to the test…they really wanted to embarrass him…to force him to take a public position on a controversial moral/ethical and religious question…the question of divorce. The truth is, the Pharisees really didn’t care what position Jesus took on the question of divorce, because they knew if he sided with the religious conservatives (who said, that the only time divorce is justified is when the wife had been unfaithful…had committed adultery) then he would alienate the religious liberals. And if Jesus sided with the liberals (who said if a wife displeased her husband for any reason-if she burned the toast or put on 50 pounds-or she talked too much-the husband had the legal right to write a certificate of divorce and “put her away”) then Jesus would offend the religious conservatives. Either way, Jesus would be embarrassed ad publicly discredited, which was exactly what the Pharisees wanted.
A contemporary illustration of this might be if we said, “Jesus, tell us what you think…is it lawful to separate children from their parents who are seeking asylum in this country”. If he said, “Yes…it is lawful” he would alienate liberals and progressives who argue that separating children from their parents can never, under any circumstances, be justified. But if he said, ”NO, separating children from their parents is not lawful” he would alienate conservatives who believe that this practice is an effective strategy to discourage illegal immigration. Either way, no matter how Jesus would respond to the question, “Is it lawful to separate children from their parents who are seeking asylum in this country” he would alienate a certain segment of the population.
“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife
It wasn’t a serious question…it was a trick question designed by the Pharisees to TRAP Jesus…But Jesus did not fall for the trap…he didn’t respond to the question. Instead, Jesus said (in verse 5-8 of today’s Gospel), “it was because of your hardness of heart (SKLEROKARDIA is the Greek word) that Moses wrote this commandment for you, but, from the beginning of creation, God created male and female, and, for this reason, a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh, so what God has joined together let no human separate”. Do you see what Jesus is doing here…he has taken the “Fastidious Pharisees” back to the very beginning…back to the Garden of Eden…Jesus very wisely (and cleverly) avoids the trap by moving the conversation with the Pharisees from Deuteronomy chapter 24 to Genesis chapter 2…from a discussion about Moses to a serious conversation about God…Jesus moves the conversation with the Pharisees (and with those of us who are listening this morning) from a dialogue about what was “permitted/what was lawful” to a serious conversation about what was “intended” from the very beginning by the God who dreamed up the whole idea of marriage in the first place!
Friends, in today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us that divorce is wrong…it is a sin…divorce represents a failure to live up to God’s intentions for marriage. Jesus says divorce is wrong…but what he doesn’t say (here or anywhere else in the Gospel) is that divorced people are bad or that, because of their failure, they have put themselves beyond the reach of God’s care, concern and God’s saving embrace. Divorce is wrong…it is a sin…but so is greed and selfishness…envy and pride…judgmentalism and the failure to forgive and the list goes on and on and on! Friends the Gospel is filled with difficult teaching (like the one about divorce in today’s Gospel) it is constantly reminding us of the high moral and ethical standards of God’s original intentions for his beloved children, and reminding us of just how often we fail to live up to those lofty moral and ethical standards.
But here is the great Good News…here is the essence of the Gospel of Grace: even when we fail…even when we make an absolute mess of our lives…even when our hardness of heart and our selfishness and neglect transform the gladness of marriage into a destructive disaster which must be terminated for the well being and the survival of everyone involved (husband, wife and children)…Jesus does not condemn us…his relentless love and compassionate concern does not end when our marriages end! And I am here this evening/morning to remind you that the God of the Bible…the God in whose image all of us were created…the God that we worship and serve continues to “Pour upon us the abundance of His mercy…forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask”…THANKS BE TO GOD!!