The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 46
He left that place and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan. And crowds again gathered around him; and, as was his custom, he again taught them.
Some Pharisees came, and to test him 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.’ 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.’
Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’ Mark 10:1-12
The year my son's father and I split up, the Dixie Chicks, became the song track for my pain, heartache, and hope. I never listened to country music, even though that was all my family listened to, but that year. The words that poured out in their singing, helped me to pour out my emotions especially on the long drive back home after dropping my son off at his dad's. When I was sad, You Were Mine spoke to me. When I was angry, Goodbye Earl, released what I would never do. When I was hopeful about the future, I would sing along to Wide Open Spaces and Cowboy Take Me Away. That year of separation and divorce had so many emotions to confront. What to do next? Would I finish my Phd. in Political Science knowing I didn't want to be a professor and would have a hard time finding a political philosophy job? If I didn't do that, what would I do? I had to struggle with the hurtful things people say to each other toward the end. It wasn't about being over weight, not liking to exercise, or clean constantly. All of it was an excuse and meant to wound. The hurtful words were to help him push me away, so he could move on.
So during that year there was a lot of soul searching. What does it mean to be the only divorced person in my family? Grandparents married forever, parents forever. My sister and brother forever. And then me failing. One of the passages of scripture that did not bring comfort to me during this time was Jesus speaking about divorce. It didn't matter whether it was Matthew making an exception for adultery. Or Mark having Jesus say that Moses gave us the ability to divorce because of our hard hearts. But this passage always and still to this day makes me stop and wonder how it applies in a culture where divorce will go forth whether you want it or not. And don't get me wrong, I was in a much better, healthier place for both my son and I on our own than when married. But that didn't stop me from questioning whether I would ever remarry. And yes all my minister friends told me were we unequally yoked since he wasn't a believer. But the words make me pause. Do we take these words seriously on our discipleship journey? Would we make different choices, if we did?
So what do we do with this passage? Some of the scholarship argues that Jesus is trying to challenge the patriarchy where it easy to set aside a woman and to do so was to leave her with few or no options for where to live, how to make a living, how to survive. So to retract easy divorce was to protect women and children. To challenge easy divorce was to make sure that they would not be easily cast aside and that there was a need to make sure everyone had enough to live on.
On our discipleship journey, Jesus is pointing out our hard hearts. There are some traditions and practices that have grown up in the way we lead our lives have more to do with our fallibility than with God's dream for us. We have seen in this Gospel what hard hearts do. They prevent us from looking on hungry people with compassion. They prevent us from casting out evil. They prevent us from seeing who is actually part of kingdom building even if different from us. They cause us to push people away and seek glory. So divorce is about hard hearts. Jesus isn't asking abused women to stay in bad marriages. But in other cases, we are to stop and open our hearts - to work through trouble, to struggle through the hard times, to grow together even as we are different, to think about the children. So Jesus isn't saying in this passage that the only kind of marriage is between a man and a woman, because homosexuality wasn't of concern. He is talking about justice and open hearts. He is asking us to take seriously covenants, promises that are made before God.
Jesus, bless families hurting with the pain of separation and divorce. We know that when two people are married, they mean it for life. Yet, at times, with some people, and in some very complex situations, it just doesn't happen that way. Give peace and courage to all who have experienced the disruption caused by divorce or separation. Help them to accept their feelings of rejection, loneliness and grief. Help all of us to be sensitive to emotional, spiritual and physical needs of the children caught in the middle and enable us to reach out in love. Amen.