When it comes to reading scripture, many Christians are like those who can’t see the proverbial forest because they are so focused on individual trees. Biblical literalism seems to be our default setting even when we don’t claim that scripture is the “inerrant word of God.” We cause unnecessary pain when we don’t step back far enough to hear the Truth in any given passage or recognize the overarching theme of God’s love for God’s people, a theme that echos through the ancient stories and is repeated by today’s prophets. We get caught up looking for facts in a collection of stories that speak Truth far more often than they record events in history. I don’t know about you, but it’s exhausting to explain over and over again how I can be a Christian and not believe that the Bible is accurate.
The passage in Mark where Jesus speaks of divorce is a perfect example of how far astray we can go when taking the Bible literally. First, Jesus raised women to a place equal to men when it came to the ability to divorce and the consequences involved. Women were not mere property to be discarded when one was done with them. Like men, women are created in the image of God and ought to be treated accordingly. As for the consequences of divorce, the point isn’t that divorce and remarriage constitute adultery. The emphasis is on the equality of men and women. Divorce as we understand it today did not exist in Jesus’ day. Jesus sought to empower women, or at least encourage men to see women as equals before God in terms of marriage.
Now if we want to glean something useful and not so literal for today’s audience, we would do well to pay attention to the concern Jesus had for women. Jesus saw that they were discarded by some men and then had no means by which to support themselves. Jesus sought to change that where he could. What does this say about how we treat people who are often discarded or dismissed?
In Jesus’ day there was no understanding of sexual orientation or gender identity as we have now. If there had been, I believe Jesus would seek to remind people that all are created in God’s image and that no one is “better” than another before God. Jesus sought to bring people into relationship and community in ways that promoted healing and wholeness. Within the parameters of modern understanding, Jesus would advise kindness, gentleness, and healing when it comes to marriage and divorce. When adults of equal power and authority are involved, remembering that all are equal before God is of the utmost importance. Less judgment and condemnation and more support and healing is the message that the church can take away from this passage. Then maybe we can move on to more important things like supporting and promoting healing for women, men, Trans* people, and children when they report abuse at the hands of another…
Of course this passage in Mark doesn’t end with the elevation of women to place of equality with men and it’s encouragement to treat human beings as beloved children of God. It goes on to, once more, remind people the value of children. Children weren’t valued in Jesus’ time at all, really. We would like to say that we value children more today, but I’m not sure that we do. Think about it. More often than not we expect children to miniature adults and to conform to social norms without hesitation. When budgets need balancing, funding for education is cut – outside the church as well as inside. We pretend that parents are the only one’s responsible for their children. Jesus indicates something else.
Jesus places a small child in the midst of the crowd and declares that we must all enter the Realm of God as a child does – innocent and open and loving. Children are born loving; they learn hatred from us. If we all join together in teaching a child to love and value themselves and others because God loves all, then conforming to social norms is far less important.
We can remain focused on the evils of divorce or we can work toward creating churches (and a world) in which healing and wholeness, relationship and inclusion, open-mindedness and love are core values. Imagine a church that takes seriously the statement that in Christ there is no East or West or North or South. There is no kyriarchy. All the beauty and diversity of humanity comes together to reflect the awesomeness of our Creator and Divine Love is the rule of the day. We can stop worrying about doing everything the Bible supposedly says and follow Christ in bringing the Realm of God into the here and now. Wouldn’t it be nice if the church could actually embody Christ without condemning anyone to remain unwanted, unseen, unwelcome? There’s a beautiful, awe-filled forest just waiting for us to explore…
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RCL – Year B – Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost – October 7, 2018
Job 1:1; 2:1-10 with Psalm 26
Genesis 2:18-24 with Psalm 8
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12