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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.