GraceMercyLove - Reflections 10-3-18

 Texts for Sunday October 7, 2018
 20th Sunday after Pentecost

 Genesis 2:18-24
 Psalm 8
 Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
 Mark 10:2-16

 Here is a piece of American history from 1769. 

American colonies based their laws on the English common law, which was summarized in the Blackstone Commentaries. It said, “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in the law. The very being and legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated into that of her husband under whose wing and protection she performs everything.” – National Women’s History Project

Her very being? Suspended or incorporated? Ugh.

I was in elementary school through most of the sixties. I watched the protests about equal pay, equal employment opportunities, civil rights, voting rights. The best summary of my understanding of the news as a child was that people are  being treated unfairly and they want it fixed.

I graduated from high school a month before Title Nine passed. Through the next decades, laws were challenged and/or written, gradually granting women’s “very being & legal existence” back to them. Can you be pregnant and work? Can an unmarried woman get birth control? Can a woman not be promoted to a law firm partnership because of gender? Or become a Jaycee? What rights does a victim of domestic violence have? Or someone who was raped? What constitutes sexual harassment? 

Obviously, a lot of that is not settled after all these years. In just the last year, we’ve seen more women are speaking out with #MeToo and #WhyDidn’tIReport referring to their experiences with sexual assault and harassment *.  

Note: Please know, I am aware of the many men who can and have used these hashtags. I believe you.

Somehow this all connects for me to the appointed Gospel… The Pharisees in this Sunday’s Gospel bait Jesus with a question about divorce that they can already answer, because when he turns it back on them, they answer. So why ask? Well, there was a debate about it between two schools of law interpretation at the time, so maybe they were just interested on which side Jesus came down. More likely, it was because John the Baptist was beheaded because of his criticism of the divorce and remarriage in the royal family and the Pharisees were hopeful Jesus would say something they could use against him.

The situation for women in the Palestine of Jesus’ day was pretty similar – if not worse - to 1769 in the American colonies. Women and children were technically the property of men; being property is never a good place. It was a given in the society that a man could divorce his wife. Deuteronomy 24:1 - Suppose a man marries a woman and later decides that he doesn't want her, because he finds something about her that he doesn't like. So, he writes out divorce papers, gives them to her, and sends her away from his home (GNT). This is the point where those two different schools diverge. One school says the only legitimate reason for divorce is in the case of adultery. The other says any reason is fine including burnt toast.

( #IBurnToast  Did you know October is Domestic Violence Awareness month? The real hashtag is #SurviorSpeaks )

Ignoring the trap about which school he follows, Jesus says Moses’ “permission” to divorce results from the brokenness of humans. He goes on to talk about pre-fall Eden-living at creation and how God envisioned partnership and wholeness within relationships. In other words, “what is allowed” by Moses’ law is less important than God’s intentions for creation.

As his ever-confused disciples ask about it again later, note that Jesus equalizes the genders by talking about a woman divorcing her husband. That is a big deal. He’s still not for divorce, but it is an important jump in recognizing that the woman has a “very being” on her own. It's takes 2 to tango.

I know this topic is painful for many people. Whether adultery or burnt toast, a broken relationship feels like a death in one’s life. And this scripture can feel like condemnation.

God did create us to be in relationships - with each other and with God. And in many and various ways we do not live up to God's intention for us. But the good news of Jesus is that we are dearly loved by God and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus.

God's mercy is greater than judgement. God's love is greater than despair. God's grace is greater than condemnation.

This passage in Mark ends with Jesus welcoming the children again. That’s a great place to end! We are reminded of God's intention that it is the broken, the marginalized, the excluded, the vulnerable who are eagerly welcomed into the kingdom. 


* Note: if all of this “stuff” in the news is just a little too close for you and you find yourself re-traumatized, please talk to someone. The National Sexual Assault hotline is 1-800-656-4673.
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Written by Pam Larabee-Zierath

Gathered by Grace, Scattered for Service
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  1. Such a powerful message in such a dark time. Thank you.