October 7, 2018 20th Pentecost year B
Our Gospel lesson begins with a test, Jesus is tested by the Pharisees. This test, like Job's test, was given not to see if he passed but to see if they could make him flunk. It’s one thing to take a test to see if you have the where with all to pass it, it is entirely another thing to take a test where those grading it are dedicated to making sure you fail. Jesus surprisingly passed the test by flunking the teachers.
Essentially, he said, “if you have to ask the question, you Bible ‘experts’ then you don't know your Bible.” But before I go into these difficult and testy words about divorce I'd like to skip to the end of this lesson. The part that says "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for tis to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it."
Much of our theology is found in music. Music has a way of becoming ingrained in our souls. The simple melody "Jesus Loves Me" is often one of the first hymns parents teach their children. The first theology, a big word which quite literally means "God talk", that an adult ever learned. I've found the impression this song makes is deep and lasting- its even familiar among the unchurched- millions can sing the first verse of this hymn from memory.
Its even been translated into as many languages as John 3:16.
"Jesus loves me"... cross and resurrection we know and have little doubt that someone who went that far for us loves us. However, "For the
Bible tells me so- When one reads the Bible it is very easy to take offense- Not just among nonbelievers but among the devote as well- ask any preacher for a list of the top ten things they wish Jesus had never said and this passage about divorce will be in the top three!!
Before the days of Moses, when a man wanted to divorce his wife, all he had to do was point to the door and say, "Get Out!" Within a few heart beats a woman could find herself husbandless, homeless and penniless. In order to grant some measure of protection to wives, Moses gave Israel the divorce law described in Deuteronomy 24. The man now had to write his wife a certificate of divorce that clarified the woman's status and made it is easier for her to remarry. During Jesus day the debate was between the liberals and conservatives (what's new?) Both agreed that an indecency was needed for divorce. The Conservatives saying divorce was only allowed for a sexual indecency. The Liberals said the indecency could be for gaining weight, no male children, even poor cooking. The Pharisees were trying to see if they could label Jesus- liberal or conservative. They found out his label "radical."
Jesus speaks not only of the predominant male patriarchs right to divorce but also the subservient females right to divorce. But before you think of him as a women's libber listen to his conclusion Neither is What God wills. The Pharisees ask Jesus about a legality and Jesus responds instead about God's will. God's will is not law but love. God's intent with the gift of male and female and family is love, lasting love. God's will was that this gift of relationship and family be lasting and loving. Jesus loves me
But like every good gift from God humans have been able to corrupt it and abuse it to the point where it no longer seems like gift but torture. A husband forgives his wife seventy times seven and the marriage only gets worse. The wife goes the second mile- for the second thousand mile and circumstances only deteriorate. If a woman abandons her husband and children, must a man remain bound in a marriage which is no marriage? Must a woman remain in a physically abusive marriage? Surely that is not the will of God. These are extreme cases, of course, but not as rare as we would wish.
We must interpret Jesus stern words on divorce in the light of his whole message. First, Jesus spent his whole ministry struggling against legalism. Second Jesus came into the world to forgive sinners. How often we forget the words "they are weak but he is strong.
Yes Jesus holds up high standards for marriage- but he also does so for prayer, fasting, entertaining, swearing, and so many other aspects of life. Shall we lower the standard because it's so hard to meet. While we feel for folks that have a tough time passing the drivers test we still don't want to lower the standards so that we encourage more incompetent drivers to be on the road. Standards are set for the betterment of society and even the benefit of the individual.
The same is true of God's standards set for the betterment of society and the benefit of the individual. Instead of complaining about God's high standards what about accepting our weakness and Jesus strength. Accepting our weakness, our sins is Jesus' strength. We find peace for our failures in his loving forgiveness.
The gift of marriage, of that special unique bond between a man and a woman is a wonderful God given miracle. And we should celebrate it! not apologize for it. The fruits of marriage, children and community are marvelous benefits that can be enjoyed not just endured. We should celebrate
Yet while we celebrate it we should not make a competition out of it. I've succeeded where others failed- there is no right to judge- but rather "there but for the grace of God go And there is no right for the divorced to accuse and scoff at those still struggling with this thing called marriage “What a crock!"- Who are you to judge God's gifts?
Perhaps we would do well to expand our theology and learn some of the other verses of Jesus Loves Me
Jesus loves me he will stay- whether married or divorced close beside me all the way- whether married or divorced-from a nuclear, mixed, blended family- whether homosexual or heterosexual- whether alcoholic, addicted or sober.
When at last I come to die- and despite our competitive nature the person with the most toys or the best resume does not win he will take me home on high- this is grace, grace for each day- single, married, divorced, separated...
because Jesus loves us this we know for the bible tells us so little ones (from 9 days to 90 years) to him belong we are weak, but he is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves you- at your baptism he claimed you as his own child!
Yes, Jesus love you- at the table he feeds and nourishes, forgives, and frees you!
Yes, Jesus love you!!- if you don 't believe me- the bible tells you so. Amen.