Reflection for Sunday October 3, 2021
Readings: Genesis 2: 18-24; Hebrews 2: 9-11; Mark 10: 2-16
Preacher: Sr. Barbara Moore
The section on children in Mark’s Gospel is one that delights the reader. It speaks of the innocence and awareness of children. The marriage section of this Gospel is what we might call a “difficult text.” I am always very careful when preaching about marriage, a life style I was not called to embrace. But through the years I have walked with folks in happy marriages, the sorrow at the death of a spouse, and those who were rejected or who for any variety of reasons, found themselves in a difficult commitment. My reflections around this Gospel are from a purely pastoral perspective.
The first two creation stories in Genesis are dramatically different. The first account is a beautiful poem of a six-day process. Over the first three days, God creates the context for the creatures that were created during the last three days. Humankind holds a place of honor by being created in God’s image. The fact that there are two accounts of creation tells us that the editors of this book combined two well accepted ancient creation stories. It is important to note that many different creation stories were very prevalent among ancient peoples, and often parts of them are borrowed and appear in other stories.
In today’s Genesis story, man is created very early and to give him company, God took one of his ribs and created a woman. I remember as a child I was sure we could locate the missing rib in men! The first creation account describes humankind as “made in God’s image” and in the second account the author speaks of the relationship between a man and his wife. And it is this second creation account that Jesus speaks about today. Then he expands his teaching by discussing different dimensions of divorce.
Today, a question was presented to Jesus in order to trap him. The answer could have raised problems for him because the ruler, Herod, married his brother’s wife. Certainly, John the Baptist had problems around this issue and they led to his death. One might ask why in the Gospel do religious leaders try to ensnare Jesus or embarrass him? Why did he threaten them? It is a question we perhaps all need to think about when we find ourselves being hurt, cornered or embarrassed by a person with whom we disagree. Or if we sense we are doing it to another person.
There were different views about divorce within Jewish religious leadership. Some would not allow a man to remarry after a divorce if his former wife was alive. Mark has Jesus presenting the strictest interpretation of the divorce law. But we see that in time, Matthew’s Gospel and Paul’s letters offer some alternatives. This awareness indicates that as time moves on and understandings change about human nature, so too different legal and religious interpretations often follow.
All of us have experienced the pain and suffering divorce presents as well as the attempts to maintain a relationship that no longer exists. We are aware of the impact divorce has on children and extended families. We also know and have seen the abuse some partners endure to maintain a commitment. In addition, we are aware of the pain some communities and individual Christians have imposed on divorced persons who remain in their midst.
Jesus, as he reached back into the time of Moses, indicates that Moses made decisions about marriage because of the “hardness of (the people’s) hearts”. Moses was responding to the attitudes and views of his day. It is also interesting to note that the decision of Moses only effected men who sought a divorce. But Jesus in his instructions, broadened the issue and included women seeking a divorce.
There is power in Jesus’ additional instruction. “What God has joined together; no human being must separate.” This is a warning not only to the married couple, but to all of us who are in relationship with them. I do think that it is a legitimate question to ask, “Did God join these two people together?” I say that because their union is much more than a church blessing as important as that is. We all know situations that have made it difficult for a couple to hold on, and maintain their relationship.
Our role, it seems to me in such cases, is one of compassionate listening, prayer, and wise but non-judgmental advice. And for those of us who are committed to pastoral care, it might be wise from time to time to reflect on the marriages that are obviously “joined together by God” as examples of the depth and meaning Jesus is suggesting as well as those who struggle. There is so much we can learn from all their experiences both positive and negative.