From the Rector
The gospel lesson appointed by the lectionary for this weekend, coinciding with the second of our four-week stewardship campaign, would be among the very last chosen by any decent development or fundraising guru. It’s the one where some Pharisees test Jesus about his attitudes on divorce, and Jesus equates divorce and remarriage with adultery. I can think of only a few passages in the whole Bible that make people squirm more than this, and (thankfully) none of the others appear in the Sunday lectionary rotation.
My friend Evan Garner wrote this past week about people’s typically fierce reactions to this passage and any attempt to teach on it. And it’s not all that hard to understand why. Nearly all of us have been affected by divorce, so it stings bitterly to read Jesus say such a thing, especially when divorce may have actually been an act of mercy ending a poisonous, abusive, or loveless marriage.
My own understanding of this hard teaching lines up with how I interpret Jesus’ other hard teachings. I think what Jesus most wants us to understand is that there are layers of meaning to our lives that transcend our physical reality. What we look at, how we spend money, how use our words, how we treat other people…it all matters on a soul-level. Each action leaves an impression upon our souls, even as it involves our bodies. In the same way, marriage is not just a contractual relationship between two people governing the sharing of assets. It is a spiritual arrangement that connects to our soul’s identity. In marriage, we are combining more than just our bank accounts or property; we are combining our souls.
Which may mean that it is not possible to fully separate from someone with whom we’ve been married, despite a judge’s decree. They may no longer be a part of our daily lives, perhaps for good reason. They may no longer share our finances or home. But when we have combined our souls in such a way, the impression left upon us by our relationship remains. And it is ultimately only God who can truly detangle that which we believe God brought together.
Why am I writing this, you may be wondering. Well, we have been fighting for many years to extend the blessing of marriage to same-sex couples. And the reason I’ve been committed to that fight is that I believe marriage is about more than a legal arrangement. It is a godly union of two persons who commit to one another in a lifelong relationship of loving care. It is two people – body and soul – forming something new together, something God-created. And when we hold such a lofty theology of marriage, we cannot simultaneously diminish marriage to accommodate its easy termination.
I want to be clear to all those who have experienced the pain of divorce: I am so sorry. I’m sorry for the transformation of your joy and hope into sadness or bitterness. I’m sorry if you experienced abuse, if you were deceived by infidelity, or if you were surprised by the sudden rejection of your spouse. I’m sorry for the circumstances that led you to make what must have been an incredibly hard decision. And I’m sorry if Jesus’ words this weekend will cause you yet more pain. For I am convinced that his message is about elevating how seriously we take our lives, not condemning people for making painfully hard choices amidst the complex brokenness of the world.
So, even as you squirm in your pews this weekend, dear friends, listening to this uncomfortable gospel, I hope you will ponder what you think marriage really is all about. Celebrate that we can now extend that joyful privilege to more of our members, and pray for those who have experienced the pain of divorce. For no matter who we are, we surely need a healthy dose of compassion and mercy.
See you this weekend.