Archive for remarriage

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/.