It’s Not Me! Blame Jesus!

Mark 10:2-16 – The 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for October 7, 2012

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her…” (Mark 10:10)

I am an adulterer and have been since 1984.

In 1979, California provided me with, to use a phrase from Mark’s Gospel, a “certificate of dismissal” from my then wife. The real trouble began five years later when I said I do to my beloved and became, for the second time, a married man.

Adulterer!

Jesus said, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:10-12)

Not much wiggle room, eh?

Would you like to debate homosexuality, child labor, abortion or slavery? With those subjects—and other controversial issues—the abundant presence or stark absence of Biblical verses has and will continue to fuel faith-based debates.

For Christians, what is there to debate about divorce?

A few years after California legalized my adulterous behavior, I memorized Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount” for Easter. Most of my congregation way back then appreciated my efforts. It was likely the singular time when my quirks, doubts or opinions didn’t “adulterate” the sermon.

And yet I irked a few folks. One Easter visitor* jabbed his finger at my chest during the greeting line after worship. He growled, “After what you said about divorce, young man, I’ll never come to this church again. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

By preaching the exact words of the “Sermon on the Mount,” I’d highlighted two of Jesus’ most irksome insights.

Matthew 5:27-28 proclaimed even a lustful sideways gander at someone other than your spouse made you a sinner/adulterer. A mere glance! (Just ‘cuz I’m on a diet doesn’t mean I can’t look at the menu. Right? Right?) Well, thanks Jesus . . .

Take an anxious breath and a few verses later (Matthew 5:31-32**), Jesus unequivocally stated divorcing your spouse made you a sinner/adulterer. Well, thanks Jesus . . .

There was no gratefulness for me, or the Prince of Peace, by the guy that vowed to never darken the church’s door again. How dare I declare the divorced are evildoers.

It’s not me! Blame Jesus!

Had my agitated critic also struggled through a divorce? After all, the National Center for Health Statistics “found that 43 percent of first marriages end in separation or divorce within 15 years.”

Gulp.

Biblically speaking, marriage is always messy. Though I won’t take the time—maybe because we adulterers are lazy—I could easily find scriptural references to getting hitched to multiple wives, owning one or one thousand concubines and having a marriage arranged by your family. Those thinking the Bible only affirms family values will be irked . . . there are lots of verses that’ll send nice folks storming out the church.

Gulp.

To make matters worse (or better?), recent news has trumpeted the discovery (by Harvard Divinity School’s Dr. Karen King) of an ancient papyrus fragment mentioning Jesus’ wife.

More gulping?

How do you feel about Jesus having a wife? Does it positively or negatively influence your faith?

I suspect readers of The DaVinci Code (spoiler alert for the three people who never heard of Dan Brown’s fictional account of Jesus being a dad) could embrace the 1.5 x 3 inch snippet of papyrus as a “Yes!” to one of Christendom’s conundrums: Was Jesus married? Indeed, many reputable scholars wouldn’t be overly surprised if Jesus had said, “I do.” Most Jewish men were married and had children.

Would my Roman Catholic friends, with their tradition of celibacy, embrace the barely legible ink as potential “proof” for Christ’s metaphoric bride, a.k.a. the Church? Of course Jesus would admit to having a wife! It’s symbolic language describing the relationship between the Holy and the human.

As a confirmed adulterer my belief is:  marriage is tough . . . and joyful, jaw clenching, serendipitous and serious.

Every year, since 1984, I’ve celebrated an anniversary with my beloved. But the years don’t matter; it’s today. That’s the case with all meaningful, whole and holy relationships . . . with friends, with faith communities, with a job/career, with children and certainly with God.

Whether you deem it reverence or irreverence, I don’t care if Jesus did or did not have a wife. If he said, “I do,” well . . . great! If he lived a life of “I don’t,” well . . . great!

We hardly know anything about Jesus. All we have are fragments.

But in the little and lovely that nourishes my faith, it doesn’t surprise me that Mark’s author, immediately after Jesus spoke harsh words about marriage and adultery, depicted the Prince of Peace inviting children to come forward. He embraced them.

And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them . . .

The best of what I can do every day is welcome another.

 

* I’ve shared many versions of the encounter with my “Easter critic.” I’ve probably embellished it. But one thing’s accurate:  His anger . . . at Gospel words! It wasn’t me. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t me!

** Jesus’ reference to merely looking lustfully at another appears to be unique to Matthew, while the comment about divorce occurs in various forms in Matthew, Mark and Luke.

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4 Comments

  1. I wonder at times what Jesus would have to say about….And my wondering is based on the notion that Jesus was an extremely conservative Galilean, a son of Israel…marriages that could be arranged and completed without consulting either family… that could be acc0omplished by satisfying the requirements set forth by the state …that required less formality than the acquisition of a driver’s license.
    When I divorced I comfort, but5 not much in scripture. I found help in Kubler Ross.

    1. Mickey:

      I’m curious…why do you think Jesus was a “conservative Galilean?” And…couldn’t agree with you more: not much comfort (or insight) about divorce in scripture.

      Thanks for your comments. And apologies for my belated response…

      1. Well. I should say that I am not merely liberal. I am more liberal than anyone you know. That is irrelevant. Before the current crop of fundamentalist “conservative” values laden hucksters came on scene, conservative was a good word that was descriptive of a good thing. One sired me and another bore me and both took responsibility for those acts and sacrificed endlessly in order to meet that responsibility.
        I was thinking of conservative in that sense of the word. Neither of my parents would have been fooled by the Becks, Limbaughs, Dolans Ryans, Kudlows or any of their ilk.
        I think it important that Jesus was a Galilean as opposed to a Judean. I suspect there were “Galilean” jokes in the markets of Jerusalem that derided their economic and social backwardness. I think it important that the Judeans had a deathgrip on the Vichy government of Palestine and an equally firm hold on the Temple revenues.As the great philosopher Hammett said”follow the money”. Those two things combined to make them neither liberal or conservative, just predatory and opportunistic in the manner of the aforementioned folk.
        My conservative notion about Jesus comes mostly from my take on his many confrontations with the Pharisees. I read them as liberals (I know, I know but I am comparing them to Sadducees.. The replies and the parables seem to me to be a reiteration and reinforcement of the law and the prophets sans the “hardness of heart” that he spoke of. He knew (again I have no evidence) that as Paul said the letter killeth. He also knew that if the “ten words” were categorical commandments he had no mission and no business wandering around posing as an itinerant preacher. But in true conservative form he held to the tried and true thus seeing that the grace he was purveying was liberally sprinkled all through they Old Testament. It was not his fault that whoever committed the scripture as he knew to papyrus or parchment had not been to seminary and was forced to deal with the vocabulary he had at his(or her) disposal.
        I ramble too long. I appreciate your writing and look forward to your notes. Not to worry about when you get around to replying. As you know, you need not …but I do look forward to them

        1. Mickey…

          Thanks! And I generally agree with you…my sense is that both conservative and liberal are words that have become easy labels and mean taunts and we’ve lost touch with their real (and helpful) meanings.

          But you being “more liberal than anyone you know?” Hmmmm. I suspect I have friends that would debate you on that!

          Take care!

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