Archive for equality

Fertilizing Repentance

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , on March 24, 2019 by timtrue

Luke 13:1-9

1.

Why do bad things happen to innocent people?

Why were fifty Muslim worshipers killed on March 15 in a senseless act of violence and hatred?

Now, I’m not curious about the gunman’s motives; I’m not trying to understand why he did it. That’s not what I mean by “why.” Rather, it’s bigger. I’m asking why there’s evil in our world at all.

God is good, right? And we like to say, too, that God is all-powerful, omnipotent.

So then, why doesn’t God just put a stop to it? Eradicate every last trace of evil in our world?

God is good; but evil continues.

So, I wonder if this was the question those people have in mind when they approach Jesus at the beginning of today’s Gospel.

Some Galilean pilgrims were in Jerusalem, they say, offering sacrifices at the altar of the Temple itself, when Pontius Pilate cut them down in cold blood.

Why, Jesus? These were good, pious, innocent people. Why is there such evil in the world?

But Jesus doesn’t answer this question. Instead, he answers another question that was probably on their minds too.

“Do you think,” he asks, “that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?” And the answer is: “No.”

And thus we learn, at least, that evil is not a manifestation of God’s judgment—a message that, sadly, still makes its way around some Christian circles.

And in case it doesn’t stick, Jesus makes this point again, referring to a tragedy, a tower that fell and crushed eighteen unsuspecting passersby. Were they “worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?” Jesus asks. And again, the answer is no.

Jesus makes one thing clear: Evil is not a display of God’s judgment.

2.

Jesus also makes a statement about repentance. And he also makes this statement twice, which emphasizes it: there’s another important truth here. But this one isn’t so clear.

“Unless you repent,” he says, “you will all perish just as they did.”

What does Jesus mean?

He can’t mean death. For they died; and we will all die too, whether we repent or not.

But if we repent, Jesus says, we will not die in the same way they died.

Well, does that mean that, if we repent, then we will be immune to evil or disaster?

Surely not! Surely there were repentant people on board Flight 11 on that fateful day in September, 2001!

Repentance is not some magic protection against evil—a forcefield or whatever.

Nor is it some simplistic message about moral uprightness or belief, as if to say that all those people mentioned—the Galileans cut down by Pilate and the Jerusalemites crushed by the tower—all went to hell because they never had a chance to believe in Jesus; and you too will go to hell unless you repent.

No, that can’t be it! Indeed, the Galileans were cut down as they engaged in a pious act of belief!

There is something about repentance Jesus is getting at here. He brings it up twice! But just what is it? Thus far, it’s not clear.

3.

Maybe there’s a clue in the parable that makes up the second half of today’s Gospel. Let’s turn our attention to that; maybe there we will learn what Jesus means today by repentance.

So, a man had a fig tree that bore no fruit for three years. He told his gardener to cut it down. For, “Why should it be wasting the soil?” he asked.

And right away I’m remembering John the Baptist’s words about repentance back in chapter 3: “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

And, aha, here is one clue. The repentance about which Jesus speaks is likened to a fruit-bearing tree.

The barren fig tree in today’s parable thus represents persons living yet in an unrepentant state, like those Galileans who were cut down at the altar; or like those eighteen unsuspecting Jerusalemites upon whom the Tower of Siloam fell.

But then the gardener speaks up. “Sir,” he says, “let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”

Is this another clue?

The tree has been sitting in the same soil for the past three years; and it has borne no fruit. The gardener asks for one more year, one more chance to bear fruit, one more year to repent.

So just what, exactly, will be different about the year ahead?

As far as I can see, just this: the gardener will dig around the tree’s roots and mix manure into the soil.

Manure! That’s what will be different in the year ahead.

Now, what do we associate with manure? Fertilizer, yes. But otherwise isn’t it just waste? Sewage? Excrement? And a whole slough of other words I won’t say from the pulpit?

Our understanding of manure today isn’t very different than it was two thousand years ago!

In other words, I am fairly certain the manure in this parable represents the evil that is everywhere around us.

Yes, we have another clue!

Put it all together: manure is connected to fruitfulness; or, alternatively, evil in the world is connected to our repentance.

Why is there evil in the world? We don’t know. But there is.

What Jesus tells us today is that we’ve got to look at evil differently, not as a power over which we have no control, not as useless waste; but as a power that can be redeemed just as manure finds redemption as fertilizer.

4.

What does Jesus mean in today’s Gospel by repentance?

We can keep looking at the world the way we always have. Evil is here. We throw our hands up and do nothing about it, just live with that knowledge and try to avoid it—and bear no fruit.

And we will perish just the same as everyone else.

Or, as followers of Christ, we can see the evil in our world as he saw it: redeemable. Then we confront it, bury ourselves up to our knees in it, and even transform it by means of love.

Evil can be redeemed, at least to some extent, through love.

So, fine and well. It’s a nice idea. But what does this look like in real life? What does this look like, say, in our relationships with one another?

Well, what results when evil is at work in our relationships? Isn’t it various forms of domination?

One person becomes superior to another. One class becomes better than another. Entitlements and privilege abound for one group, but not for other groups.

Domination!

When evil is at work in our relationships, whether individual or corporate, we rank ourselves and others; we establish hierarchies; things like slavery, classism, and racism are the soil in which we dwell; our mentality becomes partisan, us vs. them; and rigidity characterizes our world.

So, do we simply throw up our hands and live with it?

Or, what if we repent—change our worldview and seek to redeem the manure in the world?

Then, instead of ranking, we link, one person to another, one organization with another, for the common good.

Then, instead of hierarchies—instead of leading from the top—we lead with others, hand in hand.

Then, social injustices like slavery, classism, and racism are topics on the table for all to discuss, no matter how uncomfortable these discussions may be; reparations are made and we move forward together.

Then, we move beyond our competitive partisanships towards a mentality of us and us.

Then, we become flexible, navigating our way into the future together in ways that humanity has rarely if ever seen.

Then, the result is not domination but equality!

And then, reports of mass shootings and other senseless acts of violence and hatred will dissipate, and maybe even disappear altogether.

And maybe, just maybe, when wide-scale repentance is established and maintained, evil will be redeemed, transformed into good through love.

The Grittier, Earthier Version

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 19, 2019 by timtrue

Delivered this past Sunday:

Luke 6:17-26

1.

Ahhh, the beatitudes!

And I’m thinking, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”: familiar words of comfort and affirmation!

But when I listen, something about this version seems a little jarring. This version starts out with, simply, “Blessed are you who are poor.” There’s no “in spirit.” What’s that about?

This version seems grittier, more earthy, less spiritual.

And then, as I continue to listen, Jesus bring in woes. “But woe to you who are rich,” he declares.

And somehow I don’t quite remember hearing this version of the beatitudes before. What Bible version is this anyway?

Well, it’s not the version; it’s the Evangelist.

That other version of the beatitudes, the one where Jesus starts out by blessing the poor in spirit, the one without the woes—and, if you’re like me, the one you remember when you think of the beatitudes—that version is over in the Gospel of Matthew.

In the words of theologian David Ostendorf, Matthew’s is “the watered-down, spiritualized version . . . preferable and more comfortable” than what we hear today: the version according to St. Luke.

And the way Luke tells it—not Matthew—blessings and woes fall upon people in the real world, in their present socioeconomic and political contexts.

Luke is grittier and earthier than Matthew.

But, at the same time, this does not mean that Luke is any less spiritual.

2.

To set the stage then, let’s notice a couple of details.

First, Luke points out that Jesus focuses particularly on his disciples in the midst of a great multitude. Jesus is addressing his disciples specifically here; but it’s a public meeting: the great multitude is invited to listen in.

Today Jesus is talking to the church; and the wide world is eavesdropping! His comments deal with us, Christians, and how we are to behave as citizens of his new realm while simultaneously living as ex-pats in the old realm. But he says them to both disciples and eavesdroppers.

And the second detail, which I find curious, is that here Jesus delivers a sermon on a plain, “a level place”; not a Sermon on the Mount as it is said over in Matthew. Here, in Luke, Jesus speaks to us “on the level.”

So then, what’s the meaning of these grittier, earthier beatitudes?

Four blessings find their counterparts in four woes:

Blessing               Woe

Poor                     Rich

Hungry                Full

Weeping              Laughing

Reviled                 Spoken well of, uplifted

You know, when I read through this list, I don’t know about you but I find myself identifying a lot more with the right side than the left.

I mean, I might feel like next month’s car payment is going to be tight; so what do I do? I determine that I just won’t be able to go out to dinner as much this month. Right?

I might have to cut back now and again, put a temporary crimp in my lifestyle; but in the context of most of the world I’m not exactly poor. No, whether or not I care to admit it, I’m quite rich.

And that’s not on the side of blessing; but the woe counterpart. Huh.

Next, I can’t remember the last time I felt a pang of hunger—unless it was self-imposed because of a diet or whatever. In fact, there’s so much food around me all the time that I have to go on a diet in order to cut back! No, I’m not in the “hungry” category but the “full.”

So, that’s 0 for 2.

As for the third, there are times where I weep, sure. Just turn on the news! Still, my life’s pretty easy. And where it’s not easy, there’s much at my disposal to make it easier—a good book, TV shows, comfort foods, a fire in the hearth at the press of a button. . . .

Like food, various forms of personal levity are seemingly omnipresent. And again, no: if I had to pick between the two, I’d definitely fall more on the laughing side of the spectrum than the weeping.

So that’s strike three.

But maybe I can take a foul tip on that last one; I do weep from time to time, after all. Pitch me another.

And, yes, here we go. I can definitely think of times when people hated me, excluded me, reviled me, and defamed me.

Like that one time in eighth grade when all my so-called friends conspired not to talk to me for the whole day. Or like that one time when those people spread that slanderous rumor about me. How’s it go again? Haters gonn’ hate.

Still, what’s the woe counterpart? Someone speaking well of me. Has that ever happened? If I’m honest with myself, only like every day!

And yet again, whether I care to admit it or not, I fall well over to the right side on this spectrum too.

Guess that makes me 0 for 4. What about you?

3.

What a confrontational passage!

We are Episcopalians in the USA. Most of us are rich, well fed, happy, and included. We like things this way. In fact, we’ve worked hard to make them this way. They are blessings to us—no doubt!

However, according to what Luke tells us today, what we consider our blessings actually are more woeful to us: they tend to work toward our spiritual detriment more than toward our spiritual benefit.

On the other hand, the true blessings work the other way around: being poor, hungry, mournful, or excluded works to our spiritual benefit!

Maybe they’re blessings because they compel us to look away from ourselves to God. Not sure wealth, food, happiness, and a good reputation affect us similarly.

But, really, who wants these things? Would any man willingly enter into poverty? Would any woman intentionally remove herself from every available food source? Would anyone purposefully prefer mourning to happiness; or to live as a societal outcast?

Instead, rightly, we seek wellness, a balanced lifestyle. We even say, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” not, “Poverty, hunger, and the pursuit of destitution.”

And when we find it, wellness, that balanced sweet spot, we thank God for it; for it is truly a blessing.

So, what is Luke getting at here?

4.

Maybe it will help to keep in mind that Jesus is not speaking in dualities.

These beatitudes and their woe counterparts are not either-or propositions, as if to say you are either poor or rich, either hungry or full, either weeping or laughing, either reviled or spoken well of—one or the other with no middle ground.

Rather, think of each beatitude and its counterpart as the two ends of a spectrum.

So, you might very well fall on the rich side of the poor/rich spectrum. But that doesn’t mean you have to stay there.

And I’m not talking here about giving away all your possessions! I am talking about mindset.

Regardless of where you land on this spectrum, can you put yourself in the shoes of those who have less than you do?

What is it like, for instance, to live paycheck to paycheck and not have good healthcare; and suddenly receive a bill for $25,000 for your child’s “emergency tonsillectomy”? Can you identify with that family when they cry foul? Are you able to empathize with them?

Or what about the hungry/full spectrum?

Have you ever experienced not knowing when or how you will find your next meal? Can you imagine it? The pain? The fears? The desperation?

Once you do begin to imagine it, you’re one step closer to standing in solidarity with that person who is truly hungry.

We could reflect similarly about the weeping/laughing spectrum and the reviled/uplifted spectrum; and I commend that to you as a personal spiritual exercise.

But the point that we must not miss today is the great equalizing effect of Jesus’ new realm; the realm to which we truly belong.

It’s not either poor or rich. Love brings both poor and rich together. Love eradicates socioeconomic differences.

Again, it’s not either hungry or full; either weeping or laughing; either reviled or uplifted—black or white, female or male, gay or straight, trans or cis, old or young, full-bodied or athletic, disabled or able-bodied, or any of the other labels and distinctions we slap on those who are different than we are.

Love reorients relationships and reverses socioeconomic and political injustices; love brings both one and the other together as true equals.

And when that happens, all people—disciples and eavesdroppers!—all are truly blessed.

Repenting Corporately

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2018 by timtrue

Luke 3:7-18

1.

Last week we discussed Luke 3:1-6. This week the passage is Luke 3:7-18. Last week was part 1, this week is part 2; and in both passages the message is the same: we are called to repent.

Repentance, as I said last week, is less a U-turn than a re-orientation, like a compass we use again and again, in conjunction with the other tools God has given us, to align and re-align ourselves along life’s way.

That’s what we see happening in today’s passage, isn’t it? The crowds are fleeing from the apocalyptic wrath that is to come—like a brood of vipers, John says, an interesting picture in its own right.

And when these people reach John in the wilderness and hear his message of repentance, they ask, “What then should we do?”

It’s as if they’re saying, John, we’re already using the tools at our disposal: the Torah, our spiritual guides, each other. And yet you say there’s more to it; that more is necessary if we are to bear fruit worthy of repentance. Tell us, then, what more is needed? What should we do?

Three times they ask it, in fact. From three different groups! It was their constant question.

It should be our constant question too.

For to repent is continually to re-orient ourselves.

Anyway, all that was discussed last week. So, what more we can learn about repentance today?

Time to put on our theological thinking caps!

2.

Here’s what I think happens when we present-day Christians in the United States hear this message of repentance. We go inward; we ask questions like, “Where have I sinned? Where do I need re-alignment? What do I need to ask forgiveness for?”

These are all good questions; we definitely should be asking these sorts of questions of ourselves on a regular basis. But this is only a small part of the overall message of repentance: the part of individual repentance.

In today’s Gospel, however, groups of people come to John and ask, “What should we do?”

Interesting! Corporate groups—crowds, tax-collectors, and soldiers; i. e., people representing societal bodies—come to John and ask him what repentance looks like.

And John’s answers are telling.

He does not say, “You, Maximus, stop being so arrogant. Search your heart; and where the Holy Spirit brings to mind personal sins—pride, selfishness, hubris—ask God to forgive you. Repent ye of your sins, and from now on use your physical strength for the common good.”

No! Instead, John answers the soldiers as a group, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation; be content with your wages.”

John addresses a group with a group concern; a criticism about soldiers that was largely true in general—though not necessarily true of individuals.

It’s the same thing Christ calls us to do, by the way, every time we renew our baptismal vows together. What should we, as followers of Christ today in the United States, do? We should renounce evil and resolve again to follow Christ; and we should do this together, as one body.

Repentance is corporate!

3.

What, then, does corporate repentance look like? This is my main concern in today’s “part 2” sermon.

So, two things happen at the same time during the act of repentance. We see these two things whenever we witness a baptism. The celebrant asks the baptizand two sets of questions (three questions each).

The first set is all about renouncing, or turning away from, something:

  • Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
  • Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
  • Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?

So, for one thing, we turn away from something.

And, for another thing, we turns towards something. That’s what the second set of questions is all about:

  • Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
  • Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
  • Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?

We repent publicly in baptism; and in our repentance we simultaneously turn away from evil and towards good.

But isn’t baptism an individual act? How is baptism related to corporate repentance?

I’m glad you asked. For we see this same expression of repentance whenever we renew our baptismal vows together, as a corporate body.

The very first question the celebrant asks the congregation is, “Do you”—as in all of you—“reaffirm your renunciation of evil and renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?”

In the act of corporate repentance it is the church body, not individuals, that turns away from evil and turns towards good.

Thus, to ask what corporate repentance looks like is to ask how we do these things as a church body. How can St. Thomas turn from evil towards good? Where does St. Thomas need to re-orient itself?

4.

Jesus would soon come with a winnowing fork, John declared, to gather wheat and to burn chaff.

When he did come, we know from the Gospels that Jesus opposed the religious and political establishments of his day, establishments that held the masses under their power.

These are the kinds of powers the writer of Ephesians means when he says, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness” (6:12).

These are the kinds of powers, too, we address in our baptismal vows with the question, “Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?”

When Jesus ushered in the kingdom of God, he introduced a realm that is very different from the realm of the world. The world’s powers operate by domination; but Jesus operates by love, which shows itself in true equality.

Think this through with me. The religious and political systems in Jesus’ day dominated the lay people and the public, the “crowds”—a term used over and over in the Gospels. Jesus continually opposed these powers because they oppressed the crowds so in need of liberation.

Systems of domination do this: they create social hierarchies; they always seek to place one person above another.

The Roman system placed slaves below freemen; freemen below equites; equites below senators; and so on up the hierarchical pyramid until reaching the emperor at the very top.

And the Jewish religious system gave Samaritans and Gentiles a lower position on the hierarchy than Jews; the common laypeople lower than the scribes; and the scribes lower than the priests, all the way up to the high priest.

This is what Luke is getting at in the beginning of chapter 3, when he mentions all those tricky names:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

When John the Baptist began preaching his message of repentance out in the wilderness, obviously, there were established social hierarchies.

And yet now it’s the crowds, the tax-collectors, and the soldiers who come to John for repentance; and they come seemingly heedless of these established social hierarchies.

Equality! That’s Jesus’ new realm. That’s what John meant when he declared that Jesus would come with a winnowing fork to gather the harvest and burn the chaff.

Every valley shall be filled; every mountaintop leveled; every crooked path made straight.

The apostle Paul says it this way at the end of Galatians 3:

In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:26-29).

Racial inequality, religious inequality, socioeconomic inequality—Jesus came to eradicate these powers, to transform the systems of domination at work in our world into systems of love!

Wherever there is social hierarchy—wherever one person establishes himself above another; whenever anyone thinks herself somehow better than someone else—male above female, white above black, rich above poor, straight above gay, priest above layperson—eradicated!

Jesus confronted systems of domination wherever he saw them; his goal is to transform them. He calls us to do the same today, even if the powers crucify us!

These are the evils we renounce in our corporate repentance; and from them we turn to true equality for all in accordance with Jesus’ way of love.

5.

So that’s what corporate repentance looks like! And that’s the mission Jesus has left to his church.

As a church body, trying to live out Jesus’ call—trying to follow his example—when we look out at the people, places, and events happening all around us—all those tricky names—where do we see something, anything, contrary to Jesus’ message of love?

I don’t know about you, but when I look around for only a short time I see systems of domination and their powers at work seemingly everywhere: gun violence, refugees turned away at borders, children separated from their parents, unreasonable jail sentences, a widening gap between rich and poor, racism, hatred, bigotry—

Systems of domination are alive and well in our world today—“in rulers, in authorities, in the cosmic powers in this present darkness.”

When we renounce their powers and turn towards Jesus’ way of love together, corporately, as a church, then our voice is strong—much stronger than a mere collection of individuals could ever be.

This is our corporate calling: to re-orient ourselves continually; then, even if threatened with crucifixion, to be a stalwart community of resistance against the systems of domination at work in this present darkness; and finally to transform them into systems of love.

As we await Christ’s return, let us repent together!

The Kingdom of God and MeToo

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2018 by timtrue

220px-Brett_Kavanaugh_July_2018

Mark 10:2-16

1.

Today’s Gospel has it all, right? Marriage, divorce, remarriage, adultery, and little children! Sounds scandalous! We might say this passage is pregnant—tee he he—just waiting to give birth to all sorts of conflicting opinions and hasty judgments.

Not unlike modern politics!

So, to get us going today, here are some interesting recent statistics I looked up about divorce in the U. S. from the Pew Research Center:[I]

  • Every 13 seconds, someone files for a divorce.
  • 8 years is the average length of a first marriage.
  • The likelihood of a first marriage to end in divorce is 41%; of a second marriage, 60%; and of a third marriage, 73%.
  • 66% of divorces are filed by women.
  • 50% of children see their parents go through divorce.
  • 43% of children are living without their father’s involvement.
  • The number of divorces filed per year has decreased more or less steadily since 1995: about 1.2 million divorces were filed in 1995; in 2015, the number was about 800,000.
  • You’re more likely to get divorced if you:
    • Married before age 25;
    • Did not graduate high school;
    • Fight about money with your spouse;
    • Have a friend going through a divorce.
  • You’re less likely to get divorced if you:
    • Have a college degree;
    • Had happily married parents;
    • Are very religious;
    • Live in a blue state.

Divorce is Jesus’ starting point in today’s Gospel. Moses allowed divorce, Jesus says, because of humanity’s hardness of heart.

But from this springboard, Jesus moves on through the topics of remarriage, adultery, and children and comes around ultimately to the kingdom of God. In the kingdom of God there will be no separating of what God has joined together; no divorce, remarriage, or adultery; no hardness of heart.

2.

Anyway, marriage, divorce, remarriage, and adultery are all related. But why does Jesus then bring little children into it? Why this juxtaposition? Is this some sort of mistake? Is the lectionary giving us too much: two separate and distinct topics?

It’s no mistake. Reading the text carefully, Jesus most definitely picks up the little children and blesses them in response to his disciples’ confusion about the kingdom of God; and the kingdom of God was where he took his divorce discussion.

These topics are definitely connected.

But how?

One thought has to do with children of divorce: in calling the little children to himself, maybe Jesus was saying that they are the real victims of divorce and remarriage, having no say in the matter and few if any rights.

Another thought, though, has to do with the connections between today’s Gospel and the one from two weeks ago. Just like in today’s Gospel, two weeks ago Jesus and his disciples entered a house where he then engaged them in discussion. And just like in today’s passage, two weeks ago Jesus welcomed a little child. These are some attention-grabbing connections.

So, do you recall what the discussion was about two weeks ago? The disciples had been arguing along the way about who among them was the greatest. Ego undergirded this discussion.

Today, the discussion revolves around divorce. Does ego play a part in divorce? (Does the bishop wear a funny hat?)

Yet, in both cases, the egos of little children—not to mention everything else about them—are often not factored into the equation at all.

So then, is Jesus giving us instructions here about how to live? Divorce may be a legal option, sure. But is it the most ethical option? What does a divorce—and, for that matter, remarriage and adultery—mean for children?

Maybe that’s it: instructions about how to live. Certainly, many churches want to go there. When is divorce acceptable, they ask; when is it not?

But we do ourselves a disservice if we stop here—if we think that today Jesus is merely offering wise counsel about divorce and remarriage.

Besides, in the end, when we make up rules and regulations about divorce and remarriage, aren’t we really just doing what Jesus’ opponents did? Aren’t we just asking what’s permissible?

Jesus’ response has little to do with what’s permissible. Instead, he turns the whole divorce discussion over on its head and tells his opponents and disciples—and his followers today—not what’s permissible but what’s possible.

Moses allowed divorce, he says, because of hard hearts. But in the kingdom of God, whatever God has joined together will not be separated. That beautiful, harmonious kingdom is possible in the here and now.

No, it’s not simply helpful instructions for living together that we see here today. This divorce discussion runs much deeper.

3.

How much deeper? Over the last year we’ve heard a lot about the so-called MeToo Movement. The discussion around this movement has become especially heated in the past few weeks surrounding the election of our newest Supreme Court Justice, Brett Kavanaugh.

And I know, the pulpit is not an appropriate time or place to engage in the myriad details and opinions and emotions involved in current events.

Nevertheless, in the context of MeToo and SCOTUS, I exhort us to ponder, in the spirit of Jesus, not what is permissible but what is possible.

More specifically, let’s look at today’s Gospel again. Where does Jesus take us? What are his stopping points on his journey from divorce to little children?

Jesus’ opponents come to him to test him with a question. It is worded very specifically:

“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

Stop. Man? His wife?

Is it just me, or does this question sound patriarchal?

Jewish law—what Moses permitted—made no provision for a woman to divorce her husband. According to Jewish law, if a woman was unhappy or if her husband was abusive or unfaithful or whatever, she had no recourse except to hope and pray. In modern vernacular, she was trapped.

But am I being maybe a little anachronistic? Weren’t all laws of that day written only for “man”? And, if so, couldn’t that term be interpreted in a generic way, as in, “Is it lawful for a man or woman to divorce his wife or her husband?”

Well, that’s a nice thought. But the answer is, simply and clearly, no: Jewish law made no provision for a woman to divorce her husband.

This term, man—we know it refers to the male in a marriage precisely because of the contrast we find between Jewish law and contemporaneous Roman law; which did make provision for women wishing to divorce their husbands. A woman couldn’t vote in ancient Rome—or hold office or serve in the military—but she could divorce her husband.

So, look at what Jesus does! After he says that in God’s kingdom it’s not about what’s permissible but what’s possible, he targets this patriarchal mindset.

He says, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her”—no surprise there.

But then—most surprising!—he continues, “and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (emphasis added).

Wait! Did Jesus really just go there? The law of Moses does not make provision for a woman to file a divorce; but the law of Rome does. Who does he think he is to come along and suggest that women ought to have equal rights? Has he sold out to Rome?

Jesus usurps the law of Moses. This surprises his disciples; and it should surprise us too, for in usurping the law of Moses he calls us out from what is permissible into what is possible.

A patriarchal mindset is permissible; true equality is possible.

It’s not just about what a man wants, or about a man’s career; it’s about MeToo.

4.

And as if right on cue, the disciples don’t get it: suddenly little children are all around; and the disciples shoo them away. Jesus, the text says, is indignant.

What does he have to do to get it through their thick skulls?

So, he calls the little children to himself, and says, Now do you understand? “For it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs.”

And I do hope at this point the disciples said, “Aha!” It’s not in the text, so I can’t be sure; but I can hope. For here, everything Jesus has been getting at comes together.

Why this juxtaposition? Why do we find little children included in a tough passage about marriage, divorce, remarriage, and adultery?

In the ancient world, the only way a person could have all the rights was by being male. A female might get some rights, but she could never have all of them. And a little child—well, children were for shooing away and little else.

But the kingdom of God turns this patriarchal mentality on its head. The kingdom of God is about true equality—true liberty and justice for all.

So, whatever else we make of the MeToo Movement and SCOTUS, we cannot deny that a patriarchal mindset remains at work in our world. It may be only a shadow of what it once was, as some people argue; but a mere shadow contains far more darkness than the pure light of the kingdom of God.

Too often our debates revolve around what is permissible. But Jesus calls us to live into what is possible.

And what is possible, as the kingdom of God continues to break upon our shores, is true liberty and justice for all.

[i] As cited on https://www.divorcelawyersformen.com/blog/divorce-rate-us-2018/.