I was at a UCC clergy conference this Thursday and Friday, and the speaker, who was Lutheran, mentioned something interesting about the Apostles Creed. “I believe in God, the Father, Creator of heaven and earth and in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried …” It skips from Jesus’ birth right to his passion. What happened in between? Between Jesus’ birth and his death, what was he known for?
(List these) healing, teaching, standing with the marginated, outcasts, redeeming, befriending, loving, …
In the Letter to the Hebrews, Paul wrote: “He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.” So, these qualities and actions are what we know about God. Jesus is the exact imprint of God’s very being.
And we are Christians. We say we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the complete example of God. We are followers of Jesus. This is how our God acts, this is how we act. This is what we are about. We aren’t Christians, just to get from birth to death, we are all about the journey in between. We live the journey in between. This is how Jesus saved people.
The word ‘Salvation’, to save someone, comes from the Greek soteria, and its root word means health. Jesus was all about helping people find health: mental, physical, emotional, and even economic, political, and cultural health and wholeness. We do the same. In the Gospel story today, the Pharisees were trying to trap him again with an impossible question. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” It was like ‘Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar?’ and “If a woman dies after having seven husbands, which man does she belong to in heaven?’ Yes, it was lawful. But was it good? The law gave only the man the right to divorce, and he could do it for any reason. All he had to do was give his wife a written statement, and that was it. She and the kids could die on the street. The wife, and the children were the man’s property. They didn’t have any property of their own. They had nothing. If she was lucky and her father was still alive, she could try going back to his house, otherwise she and the children were out of luck.
Jesus raises the bar. He wasn’t concerned about what was lawful. He wanted what was good, and not just good for a husband, but for the woman and children as well. His answered from the Roman practice at the time: a wife could just as well divorce her husband. Jesus raised the woman’s position to one deserving the same rights and respect as the man. And then, he raised up the children too. “It is to such of these that the Kingdom of God belongs.” Suddenly, the most vulnerable ones were on the same level as the men. Maybe even higher. The children were worthy of the Kingdom of God! So were the women. They weren’t just ‘property’ anymore.
This story isn’t about divorce. It is about the value of women and children, the value of anyone who is vulnerable. The reading from Hebrews, where Paul quotes Psalm 22 says it all. “You have made us little less than the angels. You have crowned us with glory and honor…” It shows the worth of every human being.
Jesus took a law from 700 BCE and reinterpreted it in the light of what he knew in 33 CE. The Romans gave women the right to divorce as well as men, so Jesus included what he knew to be true. Women should have the same rights as men.
Then he added to the bigger picture. The character of all our relationships should reflect God’s relationship with us. God loves people with a strong love. We love people with a strong love. We keep making decisions based upon it. Sometimes, that strong love of ourselves and our families leads to divorce. And sometimes, it helps us work things out.
That’s why we have the Holy Spirit. The real question for us is, ‘What would Jesus say today, in my situation?” That is why the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of God is within us, to guide us. God didn’t stop speaking in the year 33 CE. God cares about what is happening Now, and God continues to speak today.
How do we hear what God has to say? We listen internally to the Spirit within ourselves. We listen to God speaking through others, who have our best interests at heart. And we also listen to God speaking through the larger community. What is God saying in our churches, in our country, in our world?
One thing that seems very clear to me, is the importance of women and men sharing their stories. How have we been abused and hurt, and how have we not listened, and created an environment where it is covered up, joked about, or where it is ok to look away and pretend that it didn’t happen? How do we respond to the one who was abused, and how do we respond to the abuser?
I heard an interesting interview the other day. In response to the Kavanuagh and Dr. Blasey Ford hearings, a woman reporter heard stories of hundreds of women survivors of abuse. She noticed a trend. Many women didn’t feel like they could tell their parents, especially their fathers. These were good fathers, and good men. This was the experience of young women who knew that they were very loved by their fathers. Sometimes, they were worried that their dads would hurt or kill the guy who abused them. Other times, they were afraid their fathers would be hurt too deeply. The fathers believed one of their life purposes was to protect their children, especially their daughters. The women were afraid their fathers would think they had failed. It is also taboo in our society to publicly talk to men about issues around women’s bodies, so it puts everyone at a disadvantage.
I find this sad, but also fascinating. The reason many young women don’t confide in their fathers isn’t because they are afraid of not being believed, it is because they want to protect them, or protect the relationship. The #MeToo movement is bringing all this out in the open. Suddenly, we are hearing about hundreds, thousands of people who were sexually abused, and it wasn’t ok to talk about it. The circumstances that made it not ok to talk, als created an environment where abuse could continue. Now as a country and as a world, we are being forced and given the opportunity to recognize the painful, horrific reality, and take steps to change it. And it is happening.
When Jesus answered the Pharisees, he wasn’t answering the question they asked. He took it much deeper. What is the relationship between men and women supposed to be like? What about the children? It’s not a question of what is ‘allowed’ in the law, it’s a question of how we value every human being. How do our relationships reflect our values? How do they affect the people around us? How do they speak to us of God? It’s not just marriage that’s important, it’s every relationship. Our lives as Christians mirror the qualities of God. We Are these qualities of God for others.