a Homily for Proper 22B
Text: Mark 10:2-16
Jesus condemns more than divorce
Our story begins once again with the Pharisees asking Jesus a tricky question:
“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
Before we go any further, hear the question itself: not the one we wish were asked.
Is it right/moral/ethical for two people to get divorced?
“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?
Jesus doesn’t go about answering that. Instead He gets them to. What does it say in Torah? Well, it says that a man can divorce a woman and get remarried…but a woman can’t.
What happens next is just unreal. Jesus doesn’t go after the question, but the law. He condemns it and them for needing it! Then he makes an incredible pitch for gender equality. Then He takes off even further to speak of total and complete unity between two people. It is an impressive display in such a short time. But the disciples have trouble following along (no surprise) and ask for clarification. And His clarification presupposes the understanding of marriage and divorce that He had earlier described. Too bad it isn’t actually the law.
Jesus Redefines Marriage
Here’s the rub in what Jesus is saying. We have a law on the books that is sexist and doesn’t make us who we need to be. It’s just a legal code that produces winners and losers, masters and servants. It doesn’t produce one flesh, which is what Jesus says He wants. It produces two that just so happen to sleep in the same bed, under the same roof. Just as he speaks about observing the Sabbath and purity codes, Jesus is saying that this law violates The Law given to us by GOD. A law that is given to men and women alike.
Now, before we get too excited, we should then hear what this means for us. He condemns the law in two key ways: it is sexist, meaning only men may divorce and remarry. Women are stuck. The second way is that we treat it not as a source of unity, but as a contract.
Our own understanding of marriage was grown out of an ancient tradition of one man making a contract with another man. One buys the other’s daughter. We called it a dowry, which makes it sound better, but nonetheless, it was a legal contract entered into by two men. We have a remnant of this in the man giving a ring to his beloved to mark her as his property. When my daughter is old enough to get married and some guy gives her a ring, you better believe I’m making her buy one for him! And he’s going to wear it!
Think about all the fuss we have, the traditions. The bride’s father pays for the wedding and the groom’s father pays for the rehearsal dinner. Again, not expressions of equality nor of pure, binding love, but contracts between two families.
A problem with the law
What I’m reminded of is that bit from Paul when he talks about sex. He says don’t have it. Never have it. But if you have to, get married. The best choice is to be celibate. Second choice is marriage. Jesus seems to be telling us that we have a bad divorce law because we are bad at marriage. And the precise reason we’re bad at marriage is because we use a legal method of binding rather than a spiritual one.
It seems pretty plain to me that Jesus is condemning divorce. We’d be fools to think He isn’t. But He also seems to be condemning most of our marriages. Because we aren’t truly one flesh. Therefore divorce is not a reflection of a broken marriage, but a broken community.
A new look at the old law
Jesus’s vision of marriage is important for us precisely because it isn’t the law. It is better than any legal code. It is straight up Shalom. It is radically equal. It is radically unified. It is an image of commitment that isn’t focused on the what of what we do but the who with whom we do it. It is an amazing image of binding ourselves to another so intimately that we become one flesh—that we hide nothing from and all is revealed to the other.
And ultimately, is this not the vision of our relationship with GOD? Such profound intimacy that we are one? That my work and GOD’s work are the same? Perhaps, then, this is the ultimate manifestation of Jesus’s teaching on the Great Commandment: that we are made truly one with GOD and others.
This kind of understanding of relationship can’t be contained by laws, but only The Law. May we all aspire to that love and devotion.