What's Really at Issue?
Sometimes the issue is not the issue.* True in friendships – relationships with parents – and definitely in a marriage. The arguments may be about who is doing or not doing the chores – the grocery shopping. About money or how time is spent – but ultimately – at least one party – if not both – know there are issues underneath the issues.
Respect, control, validation – mutual love. Maybe an unsettled awareness that the relationship is no longer lifegiving.
No other scripture that hits us immediately – when we hear “divorce” and “adultery” proclaimed in the gospel – we immediately think of ourselves, how could we not? Our own circumstances – our own choices – or the choices of friends, parents, our children. And we immediately feel ashamed and judged or self-righteous and vindicated.
That’s not why God became incarnate. If you apply 21st century definition to a first century one – you are making an apples to oranges comparison. The equivalent is not the contract of marriage. The equivalent is the covenant we make with each other and with God to be in right relationship – to respect the dignity of every human being. That is the issue, underneath the issue.
5 arguments with Jesus by Pharisess and Disciples (i.e. religious people) that make life with God – covenant with God – about being right or wrong, good or bad, inside or outside, either/or.
The Pharisees ask - Why don’t you fast – why do you eat with sinners? Why did you pluck grain on the Sabbath? Why did you heal a man’s hand on the Sabbath? Why don’t you wash your hands and pots and pans in the tradition of the elders? - ALL DISTRACT FROM THE REAL ISSUE. Living the kingdom of God – which is where first will be last and last will be first. Where our rule-based honor system simply does not apply.
And Jesus answers - Why do we feast – because God is with us! Why with sinners – because they are worthy. Why did we pluck grain – because we’re hungry. Why did we heal – because our traditions don’t keep God from bringing people to wholeness – Sabbath made for humankind, not the other way around. Why don’t we worry about a tradition of washing – because its about your heart. Not outside displays of religiosity but the intentions of your heart that matter.
Life with God – isn’t about feeling ashamed and judged – or self-righteous and vindicated. If a life with God is based on either/or thinking like this - its going to be a pretty paltry faith.
So now the religious people test him on divorce because they see it as a black and white issue - with a right/wrong answer. Men could write a certificate of divorce, dismissing their wives and children for anything they found objectionable. And at this point - something objectionable could be as paltry as burning the toast. Hence Jesus referring to the "hardness of heart" that keeps some from seeing the dignity and personhood of their wives and children, and instead view them as disposable property.
Jesus upends right/wrong thinking – by suggesting a woman could divorce a husband. He answers a question they didn't ask because that scenario would never occur to them. And then he directs their attention not to divorced people and adulterers – but to the people and children who are coming for healing. Who are seeking to be made whole and restored. And the disciples, at first, dismiss them too...
Because the real issue is that it is really hard to see the dignity of every human being. To listen for both/and - to hold differing viewpoints in our head. Loving our neighbor as we would love ourselves - hard in relationships that are closest to our hearts, and the relationships of the strangers we do not let ourselves get to know.
If there was an immediate image/metaphor that occurred to me this week in reading this text - it is the feeling that in this household, in our country (united states) it feels like we are living through one of the most contentious divorces in recent history. Which is all about all about taking sides – and judging others – and either feeling defeated or vindicated. And no ability to listen to opposing views or work for the greater good.
We hear Jesus say, "what God has joined together – let no one tear asunder." and we think about marriage - but here is the fun fact - through Christ, God HAS JOINED ALL OF US TOGETHER. And our work is not to tear ourselves asunder - but, as is quoted on the cover of your bulletin - "to grow into the full stature of Christ, building each other up in love." (Eph 4:15)
How are you/we receiving and living the challenge and the good news of this? Are you being the change you want to see in the world? Where might you be called to let go of "right/wrong" thinking to see if there is a bigger picture to hold? - Amen.
*Thanks to David Lose for his commentary on this scripture passage - and posing that question. http://www.davidlose.net/2018/10/pentecost-20-b-the-issue/