XVIII Pentecost, Year B

Main Text

Gospel Anthropological Reading
Gospel Historical/Cultural Questions
Gospel So What?

Epistle Anthropological Reading
Epistle Historical/Cultural Questions
Epistle So What?

Main Text

Jb 1:1;2:1-10 or * Gn 2:18-24
Ps 26 * Ps 8

Heb 1:1-4;2:5-12
Mk 10:2-16

(Job 1:1)
There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.

(Job 2:1-10)
One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD. The LORD said to Satan, "Where have you come from?" Satan answered the LORD, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it." The LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason." Then Satan answered the LORD, "Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face." The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life." So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes. Then his wife said to him, "Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die." But he said to her, "You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?"
In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

* (Genesis 2:18-24)
Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner." So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken." Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.

(Hebrews 1:1-4)

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, hesat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

(Hebrews 2:5-12)
Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. But someone has testified somewhere, "What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them? You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor, subjecting all things under their feet." Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying, "I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you."

(Mark 10:2-16)
Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her." But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 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, let no one separate." Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 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." People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Gospel Anthropological Reading

It would appear that the conflict story with the Pharisees has no intrinsic connection to that which has gone on before nor that which will follow. It has more the feel of the conflict stories of chapters 2 and 3.

But in fact, it does. The question put to Jesus has to do with loopholes, how shall we interpret the text from Torah on divorce? Perhaps like the Hillelites, we might take it to mean for any reason, e.g, burning your supper one night. Perhaps like the Shammaites we might say divorce is permissible only when the wife has been unfaithful (like Matthew’s gospel!).

What is being asked of Jesus is this: where are we legally bound when we break our relationships with the other, what is the minimum we are legally bound to. They want Jesus to offer a halakic ruling. He does by denying validity of the question itself.

Jesus, instead of citing Torah and exegeting it, asks his interrogators a question: ‘What did Moses command you?” The answer is a citation of the text in debate between the rabbinic schools. Jesus correlates the permissibility of divorce with Moses, but in a sense, takes Moses off the hook for the law: it was given because the people had hard hearts, they had become stubborn and resistant against God. The law in Deuteronomy is a last resort to protect women against male exploitation.

Jesus then cites Torah anti Torah, Torah in place of Torah. His hermeneutic is to describe the unity of the originary relationship of the man and the woman in the garden. The relationship is described as that which God joins together and Jesus asserts where God has done something, humans have no place to undo it.

In short, a justification of the Mosaic law is given but it is immediately dispensed with by correlating that law with the spiritual condition of the people. Jesus is thus able to 1) entirely ignore the premise of the rabbinic debates and 2) formulate a hermeneutic by which texts are to be interpreted.

The actual halakah waits until he is alone with his followers who cant figure out the implications of what Jesus is saying. This halakah is not one sided, it concerns both the man and the woman. Neither one has the right to divorce, and if they do and start over with another, well, it is as good as calling it adultery. The purpose of this halakah is that it asserts that there is one protected relationship in life where forgiveness knows no bounds, and that relationship is expressed as the unity of committed spouses. From Jesus’ perspective, marriage meant no boundaries on the forgiveness of sin. There can never arise a legal reason for divorce as a justification of anything else but our hardness of heart.

By this, Jesus indicts a whole host of wealthy, upper class wife and husband swapping that went on in Palestine. The poor don’t go through this nonsense (very often), it takes money to get divorced and the masses had barely enough to get by and lived short lives. It was those who had money and time that could play the games of breaking relationships. This is another salvo against the way the Powers seek to structure human relations: the modern notion of marriage as a legal agreement (you cannot be legally married without paperwork) still gives authority to the Pharisees question.

Jesus is demonstrating in this section over and over that relationships between people are for nurturing and building up not tearing apart.

1. The mimetic argument about the greatest; last first.
2. Taking a child, welcoming the agent of the sender
3. On not becoming a model/obstacle
4. The rejection of scapegoating in marriage
5. Taking a child, the child as model
6. The rejection of mammon; first last.

This entire section reads like a mimetic primer on relationships and how we can treat each other if we desire God’s realm. It is a great challenge to the principalities and powers in its many forms: legal, economic, social, not to mention spiritual. It is all about the fundamental reversal of values or perhaps we could say it is about salvation.

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Gospel Historical/Cultural Questions

The debates about divorce within rabbinic circles are well known and discussed in the commentaries. It would appear, for all intents and purposes, that Jesus view is more closely paralleled to that of the Qumran community than it is to either the house of Shammai or Hillel.

Hamerton-Kelly points out that the Markan text reflects Roman rather than Jewish practice mentioning the right of the woman to initiate a divorce. This can reflect the current situation of the gospel writer or it may reflect Jesus’ acquaintance of and implicit critique of the social structure of mimesis. Either way we shouldn’t be surprised.

There is also an interesting discussion of the “purpose” that is also present in the meaning of the conjunction kai in this pericope online at “Jerusalem Perspective.”
Click here to read the column. (A new window will open, you won’t lose your place.)

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Gospel So What?

If, in using this text, we begin with the question about the legality of divorce, we will inevitably miss the point. It would appear that an editor of Matthew’s gospel was hermeneutically challenged in this direction and includes a Shammaite gloss. Jesus is moving in an entirely different direction.

If this text is used by some to create fear as they continue in an abusive relationship they should be warned that the very text they are using is telling them to radically alter their behavior. To continue to be abusive and use this text to justify keeping a scapegoat around would be to invite great judgement.

We believe that mimetic theory allows us to penetrate both the structure of the text as well as to explore Jesus’ spirituality. The two are saying the same thing. It is up to us who have heard his voice to not harden our hearts but to follow him.

We have said previously on preachingpeace.org that our relationships are as real as we are. When we kill our relationships a part of us is dying. Ched Myers brilliantly analyzes this and concludes, “divorce is a profound spiritual and social tragedy” and that “divorce is a reality, within which the fundamental issue of justice must not be lost.” But we utterly fail as a community when even here we do not recognize that people that get divorced are no worse and no better than those married. And perhaps here, in our compassion on those who experience divorce, we may welcome them as Jesus welcomed the little children.

We both gratefully recognize our wives (neither of whom read this site!). We have given them plenty of reasons to divorce us and they have been examples of grace, loving kindness and forgiveness to us. We would not be the men we are without their loving and nurturing care. Having said that, we got one for you.

Saw this on the front of a tee shirt:

“Marriage is like a roller coaster.”

As the person passed by we read the back:

“Sometimes you’re having the thrill of your life, sometimes you want to throw up.”

Happy trails!

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Epistle Anthropological Reading

This section of this particular page is not yet completed, but will be done a few weeks before the Sunday in question. It will be the heart of the discussion, offering an anthropological ("Girardian") reflection on the lectionary texts. It will be complemmented by the other sections, but this will be the primary material. Back to top

Epistle Historical/Cultural Questions

This section of this particular page is not yet complete. In it, there will be materials pertinent to the historical/cultural setting of the texts under consideration, to the extent that they contribute to a non-violent understanding of the text. (We won’t re-hash historical/cultural materials that are well known and add nothing to the "peace" discussion.) Back to top

Epistle So What?

The "so what" section for each week will go here. Less scholarly, more reflective. In this section, we’ll try to give our answer to the questions, "Okay, that anthropological stuff is nice, but "so what?" How do I use this in a sermon? How do I relate this to my congregation’s world?" Back to top