This At Last..., Proper 22 (B) - 2003

October 5, 2003

"This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh," says Adam in today's reading from Genesis. He immediately recognizes his deep connection to the new human being standing before him, a connection that God has woven deeply into the fabric of their lives. For us in the West today, it's very easy for us to focus only on the individuality of Adam and Eve-the union of a single man and a single woman that the ancient story seems to represent.

And it's easy for us to carry that individualistic notion of marriage into Jesus' teachings about divorce, too. When Jesus talks about the dissolution of marriage in today's Gospel, our cultural and legal perspective tempts us to hear him talking only about a man and woman: two individuals who entered into covenant with each other-and we are tempted to hear that the pain of divorce involves only them, at least for the most part.

But in Jesus' time, marriage and divorce were not just about the man and the woman. They were about two families representing many generations, property, honor, and status. Divorce was not just an individual event; it was a risky break of confidence that could lead to family feuds, shame, and hardship for numerous people. The hardness of heart Jesus speaks of seems not only to point to the potential suffering of the woman, who must return in shame to her family of origin; but it also points to the suffering of two entire families and the greater community.

For those of us today who have lived through the pain of divorce, whether our own or others', this ancient understanding of marriage and divorce seems to ring more true than we might think at first. Even today, marriage and divorce affect many more that just those who sign the forms and enter or dissolve the legal contracts. They often affect our parents, friends, and siblings, who can wrestle with the part they played or failed to play in a marriage that didn't work; and they certainly impact our children as their schedules and lives must be forever altered.

Jesus' hard teaching about marriage and divorce, then, isn't just for a man and woman. Likewise, the recognition of Adam when he sees Eve is ultimately not just about Adam and Eve. Being "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" is a profound statement about how interconnected the whole human family really is. And how divorce, as painfully necessary as it can sometimes be, ultimately tears at the fabric of this human family and affects all of us, and the world around us.

And here is where today's teaching about divorce touches our world and our church. Divorce is not just about a man and woman. It's about all of those places where we have become hard of heart and have failed to recognize each other as "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh;" places where we tear and unbind, sometimes mercilessly, the ties between us that God made at the foundation of creation.

It's that hardness that we struggle with as we watch the painful realities of conflict between Palestinians and Israelis and so many other peoples in the Middle East; as we reckon with hunger and disease in so many parts of the world as wealthy and poor become further divided; as we suffer fear from the cold heartedness that brings war and terrorism to us and to our sisters and brothers abroad; and as we struggle, too, with abuse that we often heap on the natural world, divorcing ourselves from our deep ties with the natural order and the heritage of a healthy planet we ought to be leaving for our children.

And it is also this hardness that we must be wary of in a time when some in our greater community talk about schism and breaking away-when some of us are now contemplating divorcing the church.

Of course, the reality is that there will continue to be divorce. And it will be painful. No contract, prenuptial agreement, certificate of dismissal, or any other carefully crafted parting of the ways can get us off that hook.

Jesus holds up to that pain, to the Pharisees, and to us today the longing for deep connection that God intends for all of us. It is that hope that we celebrate together when we gather to pray and when we break bread together. It's a hope that Jesus witnesses to in his life, and that Christ brings to us through the resurrection. And that hope is the good news that runs like a thread through today's readings.

We are a family, a people, and a world that suffers from divorce of all kinds. But it is precisely that world that God in Christ enters-and not just with a hope to ultimately end divorce, but with a mission to heal all of us who suffer from it; to heal our hardness of heart, and to help us recognize once again that we truly belong to each other, we belong to the world we call home, and we belong ultimately to a God who has, for all eternity, refused to divorce us.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Christopher Sikkema

Editor, Sermons That Work