Love Divine, Love Excelling: Proper 22

Love Divine, Love Excelling: Proper 22

Proper 22: October 3, 2021
The Ninteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Year B: Job 1:1, 2:1-10; Psalm 26; Hebrews 1:14, 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16

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I assure you that today there are a lot of preachers standing in a pulpit today saying “what are we going to talk about.” Some days choices of readings are great. Today’s readings offer us Job who is “blameless and upright, one who feared God”[1], so why in heaven’s name would he endure unspeakable horrors? And in the gospel, we’ve really got three separate stories, the Pharisees are once again trying to trip Jesus up, and there’s the story of divorce that is just difficult to comprehend in today’s world.

It’s one of those days that I might wish we could meander away from the lectionary. But I think there is a thread that we can look at that makes some sense, so I want to try and look at Mark’s Gospel a bit more critically.

Jesus has moved on from Capernaum to the land across the Jordan River, continuing to teach the growing crowds of people who congregated wherever they discovered Jesus to be. Word had spread. Jesus had healed the blind, deaf, and lame; he had cast out demons and had been transfigured in the presence of Peter, James, and John.

And Jesus had taught. And taught. And taught some more. He had spoken with passion and authority about the Kingdom of God, about the nature of sin, about the cost of discipleship. He had spoken with love and joy and welcome to sinners, to all who recognized that they had fallen short of their Creator’s ideals, with a message of hope, of redemption, of repentance, and new life.

Over and over his teachings have been heard and his miracles have spread.

And there are the Pharisees who once again stepped forward out of the crowds to do their best to trip Jesus up. They ask him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”[2] Well, all indications are that this wasn’t truly a sincere question. Mark pointedly tells us they asked this question in order to test[3] Jesus.

The Pharisees knew the answer to the question. The legality of divorce was not in question – it was absolutely permitted. The debate centered around the conditions under which divorce was permitted; the strict legalists would say that divorce was permitted only when there was serious misconduct; others would say that divorce was permitted even if the husband simply no longer found his wife pleasing. But it was clear that only the man could divorce the woman.

In good Jewish fashion, Jesus responds to the Pharisees’ question with one of his own: “What did Moses command you?”[4] The Pharisees in reply refer to Deuteronomy 24:1: “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.”[5]

Jesus comes back and he responds in two ways. First, he tells them it’s because of your hardness of heart that Moses wrote this commandment.[6] And then second, Jesus takes another piece of scripture in Genesis, and he says “from the beginning of creation God made them male and female”. I love that Jesus brought women back into this and places them in the context of a rightful role in relationship.

Relationship. Relationship with God. I think that’s what Jesus is getting to.

At our Bible study on Wednesday night, we had some good discussion about this passage and how difficult it is to interpret through a twenty-first-century lens. We know that divorce is accepted, it’s necessary. What Jesus was really getting at, we decided, we hope, we think, Jesus would be talking about in today’s world is community and relationship, particularly community and relationship with God. And that relationship, that community is not to be so easily broken or torn asunder as we would say in the older language of the Prayer Book.

Jesus refused to be allowed to be tricked into playing the Pharisee’s game. He refers to that hardness of heart because he knows that human beings, even the best ones, fall short of God’s dreams, fall short of God’s desires, fall short of God’s best intentions for us.

There are many good reasons, many pastoral reasons that people are divorced, but Jesus is asking us, I’m asking us to consider our relationship with God and one another. Because we are ones if we look at the words of our collect, we are the ones who have received grace, ones who have been forgiven, shown mercy, given a way out, and thus, we have a responsibility in our lives to be in communion with one another and with God. We have a responsibility to the embodied presences of the crucified, resurrected, and glorified Christ to be one with and in Christ who invites us day after day to be in relationship with Christ, with God, with one another.

God knows we live in a world full of ambiguity. We live in a world we wish to make better. One that can fulfill our dreams. We are constantly faced with choices that are difficult to make.

The message though if we look at our final hymn is “Love divine, love excelling.” Love divine, love excelling. That’s what Christ’ message is about in today’s gospel.

[1] Job 1:1, New Revised Standard Version (“NRSV”)

[2] Mark 10:2, NRSV

[3] Cf. Mark 10:2

[4] Mark 10:3, NRSV

[5] Cf. Deuteronomy 24:1, Mark 10:4, NRSV

[6] Mark 10:5, NRSV

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