Numbers11:25-29; James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-48

Turning Over Stones

Here are some stones I have overturned to see what ideas are underneath. I hope you can grab hold of something, pull -- and discover that it has some homiletic roots.

The Pharisees approached and asked, Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife? They were testing him. He said to them in reply, What did Moses command you? They replied, Moses permitted him to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her. But Jesus told them, Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother (and be joined to his wife), and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate. In the house the disciples again questioned him about this. He said to them, Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.

When I first flipped my Lectionary to this week, Year B, I quickly realized why so many priest-friends of mine decided to attend retreats and conferences, go on pilgrimage, enter monasteries, donate internal organs, and volunteer for alien abductions this weekend -- the much dreaded divorce reading! Like an idiot I agreed weeks ago to cover their masses. They will pay dearly.

I have read dozens of commentaries on this gospel reading which offered lots of interesting information on First Century Palestine marriage (and divorce) from historical, cultural, legal and sociological perspectives. Unfortunately none of this data seemed to preach for me.

What kept on creeping up in what is laughingly known as my mind is the following:

1) God declared what He had in mind when he conceive or created marriage in Genesis -- before The Fall.

2) 1350 years before the incarnation of Jesus, but after The Fall, Moses had to wrestle with the fact that what God envisioned and what he, at times, was observing around him were two different things.

3) 2000 years ago the Pharisees noted that what God had in mind and what they observed, at times, were two different things -- and they were going to use this fact to catch Jesus in a trap.

4) 2000 years later I look around and I see that what God had in mind and what occurs about 50% of the time is two different things. Now, is it me, or am I seeing a pattern?

Pessimism? No. I come from a happy home with life-long married parents. Further, the ideals of marriage declared by our Heavenly Father and promoted by His Son, Jesus, are inspiring and surely a source of great joy and life. The indissolubility of marriage is an ideal the Church must hold and we all know couples who have lived this ideal with joyous rewards.

Still, sin -- manifesting itself in bad choices and behavior -- has been causing havoc with the ideals of marriage shortly after God sent Adam and Eve packing. That is a long time; and although we wish the words of Qoheleth did not ring true; sometimes it seems as if there really is nothing new under the sun -- from 1350 B.C to 1 A.D to 2000 A.D.

Sinning, missing the mark, falling short, making a mess of things, dying and rising, slipping up -- whatever you want to call it. It has been around since the Adam had to invent the rake.

Most parishes celebrate the joys of marriage each year at a special liturgy which marks anniversaries and the wonder of this special bond. At Christ the King Church we even throw a big party afterward with lots of wonderful food that a handful of cunning bachelors crash for a free Sunday brunch.

Nevertheless, as much as these readings this weekend can bring a glow to the faces of long-time married couples, it causes as much pain and disappointment to the divorced -- and statistics tell us that you might be looking at a good number of these people sitting in the pews this weekend. Sometimes a divorced person is the victim of bad choices and behavior, sometimes a divorced person is the agent of bad choices and behavior. Regardless, the pain is still real; and Jesus never shied away from addressing or facing pain. Neither should we.

Further, one does not have to be divorced to identify with the pain of falling short of an ideal. We have all missed the mark in our lives. Do any of these quotes from scripture make you cringe a bit?

Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.

You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.

Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.

Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.

You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.

If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well.

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.

Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.

Who here is ready to pick up a stone?

In the Gospel of John, Chapter 8, we are not sure if the woman caught in the act of adultery was married, or if she was a single woman sinning with a married man. Nevertheless, Jesus literally saved her life and told her to sin no more. He exercised compassion without forfeiting the charge to straighten up and start hitting that mark!

This weekend we do the same. The church reaches out to those who have hurt WITH, or who have been hurt BY bad choices and behavior in their marriages. We may not know the depth of your pain, but we have all swam in the same ocean of sin. It is a weekend of compassion and embraces; and also a weekend of challenging one another to sin no more and to hit that mark. That is family.

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