4 Oct 2015
“Some Pharisees came and to test [Jesus] they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’” (Mark 10:2) In the name …
So as the Central Committee of the YMSofR Men’s Group got together to plan when to hold their Convention, they decided on this particular Sunday for a very particular reason. Some of the men who would be traveling would be leaving wives or girlfriends back home, but hopefully not the both of them. And as they were thinking about their three-day separation from the women in their lives, they chose this one Sunday because the readings would help sooth their pining hearts. See, us YMSofR guys, we’re deep and sentimental, and it’s not just yesterday’s trip to Berkshire Brewery saying that.
And speaking of sentimental, who can’t get all emotional when we hear the Bible’s second story of creation as read this morning by one of our YMSofR guys? God created Adam, but Adam was lonely walking around the Garden of Eden. So God decides to create a helper and a companion for the poor guy. He starts off by making cows, birds and all sorts of other animals. Man’s first companion was a cow. Isn’t that just a beautiful image of paradise: man and his cow walking side by side into the sunset. But God was surprised. Adam was still lonely even with his cow. Finally, in a last ditch effort, God creates woman and Adam is happy, and now so are our traveling YMSofR guys as they think about their wives back home. My wedding anniversary is this Thursday and I’m going to wake up and greet my bride with a biblical blessing that she means more to me than any cow or any bird. Is it any wonder she’s been ecstatically married for 27 years?
But in all seriousness, the biblical author, writing probably around 1,000 BC, maybe as part of King Solomon’s court, known simply as the letter J among biblical scholars for her preference of calling God by the name Yahweh or as often mistranslated Jehovah, and who may actually have been a woman if the scholar Harold Bloom is correct, is with these words greatly honouring the love that binds a married couple together. It may not sound so complimentary today, but J is trying to tell us through story and inspiration that Eve is Adam’s equal, that Eve fulfills Adam, that Eve unlike any thing else in creation is Adam’s companion, confidant and helpmate.
And the story may go even further than this. Everyone from kindergarten Sunday School and older knows the story of Eve being fashioned from the rib of Adam, but there’s an alternative reading that has merit. In Hebrew the word for rib can also mean side. The word is tsela, and in other places in the Old Testament this is exactly what it means. If we replace the word rib with the word side, then in this mythical tale of creation, we have an androgynous creature that is half male and half female. Then the story tells us that Eve is born of that female half, and then the words that follow become so much more powerful when we hear: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Marriage reunites what was separated. Eve returns wholeness to Adam. Just like in the first creation story in Genesis, male and female are created simultaneously. Eve is not an afterthought. This hails the dignity of marriage as entered into by two people in love who see in each other what makes them complete.
This is the tradition that Jesus draws upon when tested by the Pharisees. The Pharisees represent the religious leaders who live for the rules, not the reason for the rules, and Jesus forces them back to reason. The Pharisees are referring to the law as it appears in Deuteronomy where all a man has to do is write a certificate of divorce and place it in his wife’s hand for the marriage to be over. He doesn’t even have to have a reason. The law says he can divorce her because she doesn’t please him any longer. But there is nothing about how a woman can free herself from a horrible marriage. If the Pharisees are coming to challenge Jesus with this test, it has to mean that Jesus has been giving indications that he is treating men and women the same. If He continues with this absurd idea of equality, they can pounce on His answer that it breaks the law. But Jesus turns their test against them. He speaks about the unity of marriage as the will of God. It’s not about the technicalities of the laws surrounding divorce. The real question is about the meaning and sacredness of marriage. This should be respected and protected as much as possible.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. If divorce is necessary, and in some cases it really is, then it is the prerogative of the husband, and then our Lord who treats men and women the same, says it is also the prerogative of the wife. Ten years later when Matthew reads and retells this account he conveniently leaves out the passage about wives being able to divorce their husbands. Instead, Matthew adds that divorce is only possible for reasons of a wife’s infidelity. Matthew is creating an escape clause that wasn’t in the original and he’s cutting out the equality that was there. This tells us that marriage and divorce have been argued over and have had different rules applied to them ever since there was a church, and it is no different today. Churches continue to define and redefine marriage. This is why a church can allow for marriages to end when they need to end. No partner should have to endure abuse and misery, no child should have to suffer intentional maltreatment, when the very definition of marriage, says Jesus, is love, respect and wholeness. These are the essentials of marriage, nothing else.
Ours is a Saviour who looks past the rules and seeks God’s reason, who is not confined by the expectations of any generation or people, and who asks us to do the same. As our YMSofR guests return home, we pray that absence has made hearts grow fonder, and we ask Jesus to help us all realize the blessings of a committed love, and to see each other as He does, as unique and special individuals that don’t have to fit into the molds everyone else expects. In His name we pray. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo