Monday, October 5, 2009

Some thoughts on yesterday's Gospel reading

Mark 10:2-16

Much of this covered the question of divorce. This struck home for me, as my baby sister will be getting remarried this coming summer. Because of this set of verses, her regular pastor, a devout Full Gospel minister that has oversaw every sibling's marriage but mine, will not preside over this one. Between this and a friend's sermon yesterday on how the divorce of her parents after 34 years of marriage affected her recently and other messes in my extended family's lives made me think long and hard on what Jesus really meant in this passage. So let's look at the points here:

Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her."

In the first place, this is a test. My Lutheran friend's sermon brought up an interesting point. Divorce was pretty common in first century Palestine, much like today. Were the Pharisees asking if divorce was legal, to which they already knew the answer, or were they asking how one should go about it? Their offhanded way of answering his rebuttal shows that they weren't really interested in what the marriage was, just whether or not they could legally end it. This is where Jesus turns the scriptures back on them:

But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."

Here are the kicker verses, and the ones that have caused the most grief. So let's look a little deeper here. "Because of your hardness of heart..." We all know by now that the Pharisees would let their own mothers die on the Sabbath rather than break the law to go get a doctor for her. I believe, Jesus is practicing the age old art of sarcasm. Sort of like, "Yes, Moses says this, but if you want to really follow the scriptures you have read this part..." He knows, like everyone else, that sometimes we humans are unable to live up to the standard that God set for us. Nobody is perfect, and nobody can know what is coming 5, 10, or 34 years down the road. It's not, as it appears, an admonition against divorce. It's more of a zinger meant to throw their piety back on them in a way to make them question their idea of piety.

Marriage itself has evolved over the millenia. From biblical times until around the time of the troubadours, marriage was about property rights and alliances. These were arranged usually by the families involved and the husband and wife to be had little say in the matter. Wives in these times were little more than chattel, bargaining chips used to forge dynasties. It wasn't until the middle ages that monogamy became the standard in most of the world. And today the debate rages about whether or not we can allow same sex unions to be included in the umbrella of marriage. I think we should keep all of this in mind when we attempt to understand the "mind of God" in reading verses like this.

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