Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16
The Rev. Melanie McCarley
Writing a sermon about today’s gospel reading is a bit like tip toeing through a rocky path strewn with pastoral land mines. Because, let’s face it, when this passage is read in church, a good many of us hear it in an intensely personal way. This is true enough if you have gone through a divorce, or if your parents have been divorced, or if you are close friends with someone who has experienced a divorce; which I would dare say is probably the entirety of our congregation. So, when people listen to Jesus speak about divorce, emotions such as shame, anger, hurt and embarrassment can easily rise to the surface. And that’s totally understandable, especially if we were to believe that Jesus is addressing these words to us as individuals. But here’s the thing: I don’t think he was. (David Lose “Communities of the Broken and Blessed”, Sept. 28, 2015)
Let’s take a closer look. The beginning of the lesson tells us a great deal. It begins: “Some Pharisees came to Jesus, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” So, here’s what we know. This is a test. Specifically, this question is a test about the law. You see, at the time in which Jesus lived everyone agreed that divorce was legal—but various groups held different opinions about the circumstances which justified divorce. What’s happening here is that the Pharisees are trying to pin Jesus down. They’re trying to label him, corner him…put him in a box. Really---what they want to do, is to entrap him. And our Lord, well, he’s having none of it.
And, so what he does is turn the discussion from one which is about the law and the specific circumstances which make a divorce justifiable, to a focus upon relationship—the right way in which to live in relationship with one another. What Jesus is doing here is drawing our attention away from a legalistic approach to divorce and back to God’s intention. So, ask yourself—what was God’s intention when the Almighty crafted Eve from the rib of Adam? Nothing less than companionship, friendship, the making of a community. Think of it this way; this passage is less about legalism, than it is about what God intentionally wills for us: “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” That is a statement of God’s intention. That is a hope being expressed, not a legal statement. By refocusing the question Jesus hands the Pharisees an entirely different kettle of fish than what they were hoping to find when they first asked this question. And then, Jesus draws little children to himself (who, along with widows, were the most vulnerable of society) thereby suggesting that ultimately, the purpose of the law is to be a community of blessing.
This, then, is a lesson about relationships—the way to be in a right relationship with those we love. We’re helped along in this with the reading from Hebrews, which reminds us not just about what Jesus came to do, but also about who he is. And here’s what we are told this morning: “…but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowed with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” Jesus is our model for how to live with others—which tells us that any relationship, in which we engage rightly (married or not), is also one of sacrifice. To take this a bit further—if you want to see Jesus, then you should be looking in places where love and sacrifice occur together.
All which brings me to David & Elsie Harne, who were parishioners of mine in West Virginia. When I first met Elsie, she was in a residential nursing home. David, her husband, lived on his own; but he came to visit his wife every day. Here is a snapshot of Elsie—wheelchair bound, with twinkling eyes, gray hair and one glaringly long snaggletooth which you couldn’t keep your eyes off of, no matter how you tried. But Elsie, hands down, had the best manicure around. The woman sported killer nails—done in red, courtesy of David, who patiently tended to her wrinkled hands as though they were a treasure of great value. Let me tell you—not a few of those other ladies looked on with envy as David pulled out his manicure case and set to work. Goodness, I was impressed as well. When I think of what it means to see Jesus in others, I think of David, painting his wife’s nails—making certain that she was as beautiful as she could be in a situation which for so many people would have sucked the life and dignity out of a person. But not Elsie. Raising her perfectly manicured nail towards Heaven she spoke with joy about “The Man Upstairs”, which was she and David’s special way of talking about Jesus. The two of them had complete faith that “The Man Upstairs” would neither forsake nor forget them, even as they lived through a difficult and challenging time. Both Elsie and David have since died—but I consider their faith, and their love for one another to be one of the great inspirations of my life.
We live in a society which places great emphasis upon the value of independence as the highest form of individuality; and as autonomy as a pinnacled mark of leadership. Jesus would tell us something quite different. Jesus, I suspect, would speak of the importance of belonging to a community of interconnectedness; and remind us that we never become fully ourselves, unless we are equally connected to others. This, mind you, doesn’t mean that you need to be married to achieve connectedness. After all, Jesus himself was never married. But he surrounded himself with community—with the companionship of his disciples, with friends such as Martha and Mary and others who supported his ministry. What’s more, he sent his disciples out two by two—a visible reminder that we are not intended to walk this earth as solitary creatures—but in connection with those around us.
Look at Jesus as he is in today’s lesson. Here he is caring for children and scolding the self-righteous. He’s busy being an example for us, showing us that in living together—we need to be on the lookout for not only what is best for ourselves, but for those who are around us as well. For, the truth is, what we discover when we are in relationship with others is that we are in a relationship with God as well. Be together. In Jesus’ name. Amen.