Classic irony. For a few weeks, I have weighed in on Pulpit Freedom Sunday. Over the past week I worked through the texts associated with the Proper Reading for Sunday, October 7, 2012 in the Revised Common Lectionary; our program of preaching at Snow Hill. It was also World Communion Sunday.
My choices were to endorse a political candidate for public office, or not. Or, I could point to the way in which gathered around the Table with the Bread and the Cup we celebrate Jesus’ death until he comes with all Christians every where. It seemed an easy choice.
The body would have none of it. My body that is. After nearly two weeks of taking Bactrim post two surgical procedures I succumbed to some of the more severe reactions to the antibiotic. The dizziness and nausea got me yesterday morning. By the evening I had a rash from head to toe. My eyes appeared to swell. Children might have been horrified. Who knows?
Pastors should avoid rash. I do not mean the pink, splotchy kind on my body; though avoiding that is to be preferred. I mean rash as in haste.
On Wednesday we shared our regular Staff Lunch. You do know we are Baptist and that all meetings center around a meal, correct? We chatted about the texts for the Sunday to come. Would there be a connection between the never-ending political provocations, a la Garlow et al, Communion, and the Gospel text from Mark 10 – Jesus’ teaching on marriage? Not his teaching on divorce. One ought be careful crafting said sermon.
Alas the thoughts were together but I could not keep my feet underneath me. I let our Staff know my condition. They, like the troopers they are, carried on with our gathered worship around the Table. I did hear that Nathan took his occasion to note that around the Table there is neither Republican nor Democrat, all are one in Christ. Amen. “Preach it, “ I would have shouted.
Late yesterday evening, I still pondered the text(s). What would I have said?
First, I would point out that every text has a context. I like what Ben Witherington 3 notes about the Mark 10 passage; Herodias and Herod could be heard in the echo. You remember, it was Herodias who became upset with John over his persistent ethics. You cannot marry Herod, it is not right (ethical or moral). It may be speculation, but I think not a bad move to think that the religious leaders, Pharisees in some manuscripts, saw how John was treated when the ethics of divorce came up. Why not get Jesus embroiled in controversy that would surely implicate Herod and Herodias. After all, some thought Jesus to be John come back from the dead. Why not help him lose his head?
Second, I would note that Jesus never answered their question. Rarely if ever did he. I have some friends who believe they should be answered to. I have other friends who do not buy into such an ad hoc magisterium. Those who demand to be answered take silence as license to put words in another’s mouth. Those who refuse to play the game let them. One is a character flaw. The other is not.
For Jesus, it is the ultimate constructive deconstruction. Mark notes the conversation is a test. Expose the test requires getting at the root. Take apart their preconceptions, their a priori – before thinking – stuff. He opens up the conversation to possibility for what the Kingdom might look like as opposed to what life is under the weight of the religious establishment.
Third, I would expose the question Jesus did answer, though implied it is. Rather than answer the question about divorce, Jesus answered the question about marriage by asking a question himself. He exposed the provision in the Law for what it was, a pointer to human frailty – hardening of the spiritual arteries one writer put it. He then pointed to the gift of marriage in Genesis.
Now here is where Jesus gets pointed. Many like to point to the Genesis passage for its order. Jesus seems to point to it for the subtleties of the relationship. In a patriarchal culture, Jesus said the man would cleave to his wife – leaving behind his family. That is, leaving behind his patriarch. Wait for it. He then by virtue of the consequences of divorce he elevates both the woman to the level status with a man, heretofore in said culture unheard of. And, he makes both responsible to the other spouse, rather than note the violation against the spouse. Let me make that clear. Adultery required the adulterant male to compensate the spouse of the woman, if she were married. Thus, the act was against the spouse, leaving the woman as inconsequential – except for the matter of stoning.
Finally, I would highlight Jesus authority. The new community Jesus calls into being by his life, death, and resurrection stems from the beauty of marriage, not the acrimony of divorce. As such, Jesus does not appeal to human authority for provisions in the instance of wrong, but calls into being a way of understanding male and female relationships as mutual, and as Paul points out, mutually submissive.
Jesus’ authority derives from the functional way human beings relate as responsible before God for their own actions whether male or female. In an interesting turn, Jesus scolds the new gatekeepers for keeping the children away. Jesus rebukes the rebukers.
We cannot lose sight that here we have two categories of human beings that in antiquity, in their context, would have been relegated to something less than men, if not chattel. In the Kingdom of God children are welcomed and women have a place.
As an aside, I may indeed have interjected that Garlow picking a fight with the IRS over the Johnson Amendment might be like asking Jesus about divorce and getting schooled in marriage. The high road would be to talk about the Good News of the King and his Kingdom. Receiving his Kingdom, Jesus would surely know the implications that he is now King run all the way down to our human relationships; even our marriages.
We would then have moved into Communion, The Lord’s Supper. We would have done as Nathan did and point to the ways in the community of Jesus we all share the same seat because Jesus came to us, invited us to live in the Kingdom, putting away those ways of thinking – repentance – that do not comport to his life, death, and resurrection. Thereby, announcing that in Jesus’ death my needs, your needs, our needs, to be lord vanish under Lord Jesus.
Joshua Breland is starting up a new blog, Gospel Husbands. He has invited me to contribute. I hope to be helpful to all who read. Maybe a blog post there will emerge from these thoughts I could not share because of the rash.
Pastors need to avoid rash.