Keawalaʻi Congregational Church
United Church of Christ (USA)
Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Sunday, October 7, 2012
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
“My mother will not be coming to the wedding,” she confided. “She goes to a church that doesn’t believe in divorce and besides that my fiancé is a Buddhist.”
The three of us sat down moments earlier for the start of our visit in preparation for their wedding ceremony in Lāhaina. The visit was to give us a time to get acquainted and to go over the details for the
“Tell me about the divorce,” I continued.
“It was really difficult,” she said. “I tried to make it work but after a while it was clear nothing was going to change.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“My ex-husband was physically and emotionally abusive so I left him” she said with no regret or remorse, only relief.
“Well good for you!” I said.
“My mother said I must have brought the abuse on myself and that I needed to try harder to be a good wife. I did try harder but it wasn’t enough. It was never enough.”
I often feel I need to be neutral in my response to the difficulties others face in their own lives and to step back and away from making any judgments about the behavior and actions of others. But when it comes to abuse or violence of any kind in a relation;ship - “That’s it! Pau!” - as far as I am concerned.
I would give up my faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, God and the church, without hesitation, if our faith required that any of us remain in an abusive relationship. As for her decision to leave her husband, I can only say I admire her courage.
While her mother’s church did not believe in divorce, other churches do not believe in remarriage unless extraordinary measures are taken to make null and void the first marriage. Our reading from The Gospel According to Mark raises several questions regarding our understanding about marriage, divorce and remarriage. Who or what has the proper authority to answer our questions? What is the proper attitude of those who are to receive and enter into the kingdom of God? (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2009, page 140)
Our understanding about marriage, divorce and remarriage is shaped by the appeals we may make to “Scripture, tradition, reason, experience, conscience.” In other words we may turn to Scripture justify the judgments we make of those who choose to divorce. We may turn to tradition and find that others will insist we are bound by tradition.
Others may turn to reason and conclude it makes no sense to remain in a marriage devoid of any care or compassion. Still others may experience the debilitating consequences of a divorce on the lives of children.
My mother and father were never married. My mother married, divorced and later remarried. There was a time, as a child, when I felt deeply troubled by what I heard from others about what the Bible said, about what Jesus said: “If (a woman) divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:12) There it was, there it is right in the Bible – Jesus’ condemnation of my mother as an adulterer.
So much of what we have come to believe has been shaped by the interpretation of others about what Jesus said. Yet a more careful reading of the text suggests that far from condemning my mother or others, Jesus sought to console those faced with the trauma of a broken relationship.
The Pharisees seem intent on embarrassing Jesus when they asked him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (Mark 10:2) Jesus reframes the question and points out that Moses allowed for a certificate of dismissal to be written for such a divorce. (Mark 10:4)
But then he goes on to say from the beginning of creation, God made male and female. It was God’s intention that a man and a woman become one flesh. (Mark 10:7-9) David Howell, a theologian from Midlothian, Virginia says: “In other words, divorce is something that you can do, but it is not what God intended. Jesus is less concerned about what is allowed and more concerned about what is intended in the kingdom of God.” (Ibid., page 142)
In Jesus’ day a divorced woman lost most of her rights, including the right to own property. It is very likely that she would find herself without a home, no food, nothing.
Jesus was well aware of the plight of women and so for him the Pharisees’ question was not what was permissible under the law, but what was now possible in the kingdom of God - a place where mutual respect and concern for others would abide. Howell points out: “Unfortunately, then and now, not everyone chooses to live out the ethics of God’s kingdom. Abuse and neglect are substituted for respect and concern.” (Op. cit.)
So the Pharisees seem to miss the point of what God intends and the tension is also evident between Jesus and the disciples. The disciples miss the point as well about what is intended in the kingdom of God.
When children are brought to Jesus for a blessing, the disciples appear to become highly agitated. They speak so sternly to the children that Jesus becomes indignant. “Let the children come to me. Do not stop them.”
I imagine as did Howell that Jesus was very close to saying to them: “Maybe if you received the kingdom like a child, you will get what the Pharisees are not able to get because of the hardness of their hearts. Be careful lest you become like them because of the hardness of your hearts.”
There was a time when I felt deeply troubled by what I heard from others about what the Bible said, about what Jesus said about a woman who divorces and remarries. It was a personal matter for me. But I have come to realize that whatever we may believe about marriage, divorce and remarriage, we are left with the reality that Jesus himself was a part of a family that was far from perfect.
Joseph was not his biological father. Mary became pregnant out of wedlock. Yet they became a family, not a perfect family, but a family bound by their love for one another.
We can jump up and down and stomp and pound our fists on tables and insist that the Bible is clear about marriage and who marries; about divorce and why it is unacceptable; about remarriage and why it is wrong. But as a result of our insistence, we may find ourselves with our hearts hardened like the Pharisees and disciples; we may find ourselves at the unopened door of the kingdom of God because of the hardness of our hearts.
As we gather to share the bread and the cup that is set before us we do so mindful of our own flaws and failures; our own shortcomings and sins. But we also come grateful for the grace and mercy poured out for us from the heart of God in Jesus Christ. We come mindful of the way in which we are all children of God ; welcomed and blessed by Jesus.
Mahalo ke Akua. Thanks be to God. Amen.