“And he said to them ‘whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’” (Mark 10:11)
There are things we wish Jesus never said. Like this. Our churches are full of people who have experienced divorce, and this doesn’t sound like good news. And yet this year Jesus teaching on divorce was the lectionary passage for the first Sunday in October – World Communion Sunday.
Of course preachers have to put such teachings in context. In Jesus time women were in an extremely vulnerable position. If a man divorced a woman, she could not hold property. She might have to beg on the streets or worse to stay alive. So Jesus strong words here need to be understood as being about the wellbeing of women, for they were the ones most affected by divorce.
More than that, this passage is paired with Jesus welcoming the children. Jesus points that unless we become like children (aware of our dependency) we can’t enter the Kingdom of God. Again Jesus is lifting up the most vulnerable, for children had very little power or status in Jesus time.
Jesus is also contrasting attitudes. The Pharisees who come to Jesus want to trap him with a legal question about whether divorce is permitted. Jesus basically says that attitude of legality won’t get you a good life. What is permitted isn’t always the same as what helps human community flourish.
We live at times so aware of our essential unity, the very thing we celebrate on World Communion Sunday. We experience beauty in nature – a heron rises from marshland and flies in front of us. We look into someone’s eyes and feel deep connection. Other times the newspaper and our common life in the church remind us of the brokenness in which we live. It can be so disillusioning, the human capacity to take sides and separate from one another.
Every year World Communion comes around and every year we are reminded we have much to learn. How it is more important to value relationship than to be right. How our egos cling to things that only serve to separate us from one another. And how the grace and love of God for all creatures, all people is offered to us. Again and again.
“What God has joined together, let no one separate.” We hear these words as “wedding words” but Jesus was speaking his theology here. We are all joined together, interdependent. We have so much to learn about how this is so, and what is asked of us that we might reflect God’s desire for us – for us to claim and live this essential unity.
“And people will come from east and west, from north and south, and sit at table in the Kingdom of God” In a world of such brokenness, we live in hope.
Reverend Dr. Helen Nablo is a pastor in the United Church of Christ. She has served churches in both the PC(USA) and the UCC, and is currently Interim Pastor at Pilgrim Church in Harwich Port, Massachusetts. She lives by the ocean in Plymouth Massachusetts, where she walks and gives thanks for living in such a beautiful place.