19 Sunday Proper 22: Gn 2:18-24; Ps 8; Hb 1:1-4, 2:5-12; Mk 10:2-16
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Montgomery AL
October 4, 2015
The other night, I watched the movie The Maze Runner and as all ontological mysteries, its plot is shaped around a main character, usually the hero, who wakes up in an unfamiliar place and cannot remember how he got there or who he is. Somehow he has been made to forget and he will spend a significant amount of the plot trying to remember and studying his current situation for a means of escape. The ontological mystery genre is a metaphor for the unknown and for the Big Questions of purpose and direction in this life. Why are we here? What is my purpose?
That is the question that Thomas, the main character in The Maze Runner asks. He is curious. He is not satisfied with his current circumstances and though he cannot remember, he knows there is some greater purpose out there beyond the maze. He is able to convince some to follow him, but others refuse to hear him. Galley is one of those others and he is threatened by the maze. He attempts to conform the others to the answers they have already cultivated before Thomas came”the answers as to what this place is and their purpose therein. Galley has forgotten that there can be more to life than this present existence.
Though the Pharisees do not wake up in some unfamiliar place having forgotten who they are, they too are engaged in an ontological mystery. Unlike the hero, however, they are not as concerned with answering the Big Questions. They think they already know the answers. They are much more interested in trying to conform everyone else to the answers they believe in. They are the antagonists in our plot just as Galley I sin The Maze Runner, but I would be careful of our desire to villainize them. They are tragic figures”they have been removed from Eden for so long, that they can no longer remember what the Kingdom of God might even be like. They have forgotten”just as we have.
They have heard Jesus and all that kingdom talk scares them. Jesus’ answers to the Big Question expose a world they do not understand. It may be a world of hope, but it is also a world of the unknown and that is always fear inducing. They are safe in the answers they have cultivated. So instead of listening to Jesus, being open to a new way of thinking, they test Jesus.
We hear the question of the Pharisees today and our Spidey-sense immediately start tingling. Here it is”a straightforward question on a legal matter that Jesus can’t possibly side step, Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? But Jesus won’t get caught in that trap. Sure we hear his response in a black and white context because we are a dualistic people”yes/no, right/wrong, up/down. But Jesus’ response moves us into shades of gray that have little to do with divorce and legalistic thinking and everything to do with Jesus’ favorite subject”the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom is always about relationships and the nurturing and care of those relationships. The Kingdom is always about a coming together of persons in community. The Kingdom is about partnering with God to do his continual work of redemption and renewal.
The Kingdom is not about rending apart but always bringing together. So Jesus reframes the question from one of life under the law to one of life in the kingdom. First, he places the responsibility on man not God”Moses gave you this law because of your hardness of heart. And then he reminds them of why man and woman were created in the first place. He doesn’t do this by his words as much as he does this by location of Scripture”to hear Jesus quote Genesis is to be mindful of the whole creation story. Man was created and needed a helper as a partner”not a helper as a servant. Partner implies equality and yet, the Israelites of this time, employ a social hierarchy that diminishes women as second-class citizens with few rights and divorced women are forced into the roles of prostitution or beggars because to remarry is to commit adultery.
Jesus drives that point home by calling out men and equating them with adultery if they remarry after divorcing their wife, Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, unheard of words at that time in such a patriarchal society based on a religious piety and righteousness that few could attain.
Jesus’s words are often grounded in what we might call a naÃ¯ve morality. His take on the world seems almost impossible, but by being grounded in an ideal world, he is offering us a counter world which encourages us to step back, consider the dubious morality of our own world, and take steps to reform it. Jesus exposes a second-class world that we have accepted because we have forgotten there is a better world to aspire too.
Jesus constantly challenges us not to adjust to this world because the oppressive society in which we live is something we should refuse to adjust too.
Does this mean divorce is wrong? I don’t think so. In some ways, marriage may even reflect the oppressive society that we should not adjust too. The bottom line is that I have never met a person who got married just so they could get a divorce. Divorce is painful, it rips the heart and soul in two”it should not and is not an aspect of living in the Kingdom because brokenness is not what it means to live in the Kingdom, redemption is what it means to live in the Kingdom and sometimes divorce is the only path to that redemption because redemption means recognizing our brokenness and then handing it over to God. We cannot redeem ourselves. The answers we have cultivated are never enough.
Jesus is only concerned with what it means to live in the Kingdom. He is concerned with our redemption. He is not concerned with all our legalism, required because we have become so hard hearted that we can no longer operate in such a way as to hold the individual up, over and above the law.
If you are still not convinced that Jesus’ words are less about condemning divorce and more about what it means to live in the Kingdom, then we need only read the last few sentences of our Gospel reading today. Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. To live in the Kingdom is to receive it as a little child would”not to doubt or test Jesus but simply believe it is there. Because the Kingdom of God is here, it is not some far off place in some far off future. It is now. It is all around us. You and I, we’re living in the Kingdom. We’ve been redeemed. All we have to do is open our eyes to it, look for the joy and hope that enlivens every moment of our day, find the grace and mercy that brings us peace, and partner with God that we might be his helper in his continual work of redemption (the already and the not yet) in this Garden, our island paradise.
That is what the Creation story we read this morning tells us: that when God first created the world and us in it, we were called to work with God in his creation. Adam was the first created being and after Adam the every animal of the field and every bird of the air is formed by God, but named by Adam. Adam is a co-creator and he is given responsibility for all that God creates because he is given power over that creation by naming it. There is an ancient idea that to know someone’s true name is to have power over them: Imagine how much power and thus responsibility humans have in caring for all that was named by our first ancestor.
It would seem that in the Kingdom of God”the one created in the beginning, the one Jesus is always telling us is among us”we are invited in to participate, to be a part of the work. To name certain things, to care for and nurture all that lives, both plant and animal, to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves, and to lift up the downtrodden and those who are so often overlooked. The Kingdom of God is not about law because law only gives you one of two outcomes”guilty or not guilty”and we have all been declared guilty and yet redeemed through Christ’s death and resurrection.
So, you can read this Gospel this morning and get all focused on whether divorce is right or wrong just as the Pharisees did. Or, you can read this Gospel this morning and think about what it means to go beyond the maze, the counter world that Jesus offers us. Because the real ontological mystery ever present in our own lives is how we receive the Kingdom of God.