In our gospel reading today in Mark we read: “Some Pharisees come to test Jesus and they ask him, is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife. Jesus says: What did Moses command you? They said, Moses allowed us to divorce the woman. Jesus says to the indignant self-righteous man: ‘That’s because you don’t get it. You have a hard heart, or a better wording is ‘you are selfish and care more about your own happiness at the expense of hurting someone else.” It was easy to get a divorce in the days of Jesus. The custom was to say I divorce you three times in front of witnesses, and that would be the end of it. ”I divorce you. I divorce you. I divorce you and to clap your hands three times. (Mark 10:2-16)
In the days of Moses and even in the days of Jesus in the first century, men were the primary breadwinners. Women were delegated to run the home and have children. With a few exceptions, women were not in the market place. It definitely was a man’s world. You can pick this up in the Pharisees tone of voice. He does not say a woman or a man divorcing, but he says “is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Easy for the man to say. He controlled all the cards. He had the money, the possessions and the resources, not the woman. Traditionally property was inherited by the male children. Women were treated better than farm animals, but they were still considered property. So if the woman is not taken in by her relatives if divorced, she is in a bad way, a desperate place for the woman and not so desperate for the man.
Jesus is addressing the lackadaisical attitude about relationships. “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”. Divorce is a reality. The national statistics told us years ago that half of all marriages end in divorce. However, that number has been improving in the latest polls, and there are various interpretations as to why that is. Some pollsters say it’s because young people are getting married at an older age than before. Other pollsters suggest that more equal sharing of domestic responsibilities and more flexibility in gender roles, as a result of the feminist movement, has made stronger marriages. I would agree with that conclusion. Whatever the reason we pray and hope that this trend continues.
Jesus confronts us in all of our relationships. The message is this: Do not take relationships for granted. Take them seriously. Divorce happens, we all know that. It’s a reality in life; a painful reality. We can’t bury our head in the sand like an ostrich and act like we are not affected because we are. We all are. There is brokenness, and a pain-filled experience. For most people there is healing, but we all know some people that have not gotten over the brokenness and have not been able to pursue another relationship and get on with their lives. God heals and wants to heal. Many people, including people in the church have found recovery and have gone on to find a new beginning and new meaningful relationships.
I would like us to take this message one step further. All relationships are meaningful, and God help us not to take them for granted anymore. The church is described in the Bible in various locations as effeminate, the Bride of Christ. And, if Christ is our partner and the Head of the church, then we need to get along. We are part of the same spiritual family. Schisms and upheavals in the family affects everyone. It affects children, friends, and the unity of the church. Our relationships are valuable. Give each other some slack. Allow people to make mistakes. You know, if you can find a perfect church, don’t join it, because then it won’t be perfect anymore, because you’re not perfect. I’m not perfect. That’s why we need Jesus. That’s why we need the church. We don’t have to be alone. We are in relationship with one another, unity in the bond of peace, traveling on the road to the heavenly Jerusalem.
A meaningful and eye-opening exercise is to take a piece of paper and put a line down the middle of the paper. Then start with yourself first and on the left side of the paper list the things that you consider not so good about yourself, things or areas of your life that you struggle with. Then on the right side of the page start listing positive things. The positive things are going to outnumber the negative. And, if you can’t think of enough positive things, ask a friend, because friends see and appreciate things about you that maybe you take for granted.
Some people are gifted in areas that they are stronger than you in, but you will have areas that you will be stronger. You might not be the greatest in finance but you may have a sensitive pastoral care gift. Someone may be gifted with the ability to administrate, but lack people skills. Others have an affinity with people, an ability to relate without making them angry, and in that way you can use your gift to maintain unity in the church. Not everybody is good at rounding off sharp edges of conversation. Some of us are more blunt, and others more sensitive and able to round out the conversation, and so in that way we minster to one another. It’s also a way to grow in Christ together. I love that proverb that says, “As iron sharpens iron, so we sharpen one another”. (Proverbs 27:17)
Unity does not mean we are on the same page. Naomi likes to remind me that the phrase, “we need to all be on the same page”, is not accurate. Nobody is hardly ever on the same page, if not at all. When I use the word page here, I’m not referring for example to a page in a book like Mark Twain’s, Tom Sawyer, on page 65. I’m using the page as a symbol that points to a page in your life or my life, a page that opens the world to you at a given time and a given place. In that sense nobody is ever on the same page. But we have to recognize and appreciate what page others are on. That’s the first step in allowing other people to know what page you are on, to understand others in order to be understood by others.
In my last parish, there was a young the rector prior to me. He came right out of seminary and that was his first parish. One of the first things he decided to do was to change the structure of the sanctuary. The altar of the church was on the West end of the sanctuary, and it is traditional for altars to be facing east. This used to be the way churches were built, but not so much anymore. The word “east”, just like the phrase “heavenly Jerusalem” takes on a metaphyseal meaning. Whatever way the altar faces becomes symbolical for east. East is symbolical of the direction to heaven, and who in this congregation can point the right direction to heaven? There were two major mistakes made by this priest. One, you should never act alone. Always get advice and work collectively. It would have been a good idea for him to go to the vestry and other church leaders and ask their counsel, and to the bishop and other area clergy. He violated a famous proverb that says, “In the multitude of counselors there is wisdom”. (Proverbs 24:6) However, this congregation was patient with this young man and his young family and they helped him to grow into his position for the next several years.
In our individual pathways I like to think that I’m going in a straight line like an arrow shooting directly into the bull’s eye of the target, but it’s not that way. Our journey is not straight. The road takes us up and down to the left and to the right. Sometimes there are big rocks in our way like in the Anza-Borrego Desert, and you can’t go over them. You have to go around. That’s the way our journey is to our heavenly Jerusalem. We zigzag, back and forth, but we are still making progress eastward, and at times our paths will cross, because we are all headed to the same destination, the closest we will ever be to being on the same page, and we can encourage each other on this journey. It is an individual journey, but it is also a journey that we travel together. That’s why Jesus invented the church on the Day of Pentecost, and fused us with the Holy Spirit, because we are the Body of Christ. The church is to be a place of strengthening, healing, comfort and refreshing.
The journey is individual, but it also to be taken together. “We are lively stones to be built up placed in the structure of the church wherever the Spirit thinks we fit”. (1 Peter 2:5) and that means we are always on the move, always on the go. Each day is an exciting new day on our journey, and we need each other for this journey, because it is lonely out there, and it’s hard and difficult at times. Good things happen on this journey, but so do bad things. That’s the wisdom of the Great Shepherd that brings us together from time to time for renewal and rest.
We are the Body of Christ, and last week we mentioned the angel that was stationed at the East entrance of the Garden of Eden, not allowing passage into the garden and the “tree of life’, We are instructed to now go forward and to eat from the “tree of life”. In the “heavenly Jerusalem”, the “City of Zion”, there will be a tree there, a tree of life with healing, healing for all who will come. “We shall see the river, the river the river of life, and the tree of life with healing, healing for all who will come, and there will be no night there, neither the need of a light, for Jesus will be our light. He’ll reign and he’ll shine ever bright. He’ll reign and he’ll shine ever bright”. (Revelation 22:5)