Proper 22B (OT 27)
There is a joke that the United Methodist Church is full of divorced ex-Southern Baptist clergy.
It’s just too painful for many people to read this, and leave it uninterpreted.
“If it’s read out loud, you must preach on it,” Karoline Lewis in Working Preacher.
“A parishioner once told me that hearing this passage read in church felt like having someone dump garbage all over her. It didn't matter if she'd cleaned up and put on her Sunday best for church that morning, because after hearing these words she felt she like she couldn't get rid of the stink of her divorce. For this reason, we might anticipate any number of people listening a little more closely than usual to how you handle this passage.” (David Lose in Working Preacher)
This passage is used to argue both for and against marriage equality.
Against: Jesus declares that marriage is between a man and women.
For: The practice in most churches is to allow divorced people to remarry. This capitulation to culture is no different, and no less faithful than to allow for same-sex marriage. To argue otherwise is inconsistent and hypocritical.
Historical context: Patriarchal marriage
Only men can divorce women (not vice versa)
Men can divorce women for committing adultery or for displeasing them (“in any number of ways, including, according to one rabbinic source, "burning her husband's toast." Lose, Working Preacher
Result of divorce for a woman - family and public rejection and disgrace as well as social, economic devastation for her and her children
Jesus vs Pharisees
“trying to test Jesus.” This is not a fair question. Pharisees not interested in honest discussion.
This is not a traditional back and forth debate regarding texts (Genesis over Deuteronomy), instead Jesus refuses that argument to focus on the bigger picture of “the least of these” - in this case women
Divorce is a result of Patriarchal marriage
“The [Genesis] passage is best translated as ‘the two persons-man and woman-enter into a common human life and social relationship because they are created as equals’” Fiorenza, In Memory of Her
The woman is not , according to Genesis, given to the power of the man, but rather the man who must sever all connections to be united with the woman.
Also the word Jesus uses χωρίζω- to separate is different from αποστατιον - divorce moving the conversation from legal terms to broken relationship
“Patriarchal practice drives a wedge into the unity and equality originally articulated in the marriage covenant.” Myers, Binding the Strong Man
Jesus never explicitly prohibits divorce. He simply points to God’s intended order, which is that people would be in healthy partnered relationships.
Jesus is actually expanding the cultural understanding of adultery.
The concept that a man could commit adultery against his wife or that a woman could commit adultery against a man are equally forbidden by Jewish law.
A man cannot commit adultery against a woman, only against another man (by sleeping with the other man’s wife)
A woman could not choose to leave her husband and marry someone else (only men can initiate divorce and marriage)
The emphasis is on equality between men and women
The focus here is to protect the woman who is one of the “least of these”
Mistakes we can make:
Take Jesus’ words at face value without appealing to cultural context of the time. His words to the Pharisees would have been nearly as controversial and counter-cultural to them as they are to us.
Dismiss Jesus words as antiquated. Jesus believed that marriage was an important part of our created being. He goes beyond the letter of the law to go back to God’s intended purpose for humans - to be in partner relationships. To dismiss the need for taking marriage seriously is to debase God’s intended order. To dismiss the pain that divorce causes, even in divorces that are necessary, is to dismiss the human condition that grieves over the loss of an important relationship.
“Jesus describes marriage with utmost seriousness, as something that transcends contractual obligations and economic utility, as something rooted in human identity. This offers a sharp reproof to any who would construe marriage as a contract of convenience, casually formed and casually broken. It impels churches to promote and foster healthy marriages, and in the case of divorce and remarriage to extend compassion and facilitate healing.” (Matt Skinner, Working Preacher)
Children - from the least of these to the least of the least
Not just an effort of the lectionary to “soften the blow.”
Reveals the true nature of Jesus’ ministry, which is not to exclude, but to include.
Reveals how Jesus is acting on behalf of those that no one else would support.
While the disciples are in the act of dismissing the children, Jesus is bringing them in.
“The disciples have bought into ancient society’s valuation of children - they are not important. Children have no status and no rights, and thus their presence is a nuisance. Jesus sees things differently. In fact, the rule of God belongs to persons like this - powerless, vulnerable, weak, persons, who are often deemed a nuisance. In rejecting the children, the disciples have not just made a slight error of judgment - they have missed the whole point of Jesus’ ministry.” (Charles Cousar, Texts for Preaching, Year B, p. 539)
What does it mean to become like a child?
Not about innocence, but about being powerless, vulnerable, credulous, utterly dependent
Thoughts and Questions:
Everyone in the congregation has an experience with divorce. Everyone has either been divorced, had parents divorce, or is the friend of someone that has divorced or their parents have divorced.
The idea of marriage being a match of soul-mates is a new idea. For centuries, people married who was available in their cultural circle. Marriage was a property exchange, or a way to ensure stability for a woman, and a way to produce lineage for a man. Applying modern understanding to any Biblical teaching on marriage must be done with caution, because we are not really talking about the same thing anymore.
While disciples were trying to dismiss the children, Jesus acted to bring them in. While the Pharisees wanted the Law to help them dismiss divorced women, Jesus acted to bring them in. The practice of divorcing for “burnt toast,” would leave a woman without any recourse. It would leave her without property, family, or any way of living beyond begging or prostituting. By speaking against this practice, he was acting in a loving, compassionate way. “This scene plays out while Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem, and his road takes him beyond the usual boundaries so that he may bring the gospel to all people” (Lose)
This passage has been used to keep women in abusive relationships, but the fact is that Jesus’ teaching is about freeing women from an abusive system.
Oct 7, Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12
Oct 14, Hebrews 4:12-16
Oct 21, Hebrews 5:1-10
Oct 28, Hebrews 7:23-28
Nov. 4, Hebrews 9:11-14 (if not All Saints Sunday)
Nov 11, Hebrews 9:24-28
Nov 18, Hebrews 10:11-25
Who wrote it? No one knows
“Hebrews is well known for what we don’t know about it. We don’t know with any certainty its author, date, destination, or the place from which it was written.” (Common English Study Bible, introduction to the book of Hebrews, p. 433 NT)
“We wish we knew who wrote this curious epistle. Even though many names have been suggested - Apollos, Barnabas, Luke, Clement of Rome, Priscilla, and Silvanus, to mention a few - the arguments are not strong for any candidate. We actually have a firmer grasp of who did not write Hebrews than who did, since stylistic grounds alone, it is a virtual certainty that the apostle Paul did not pen this letter. But who did? The best answer to that question is the comment of Origen in the third century: ‘But who wrote the epistle, in truth God knows.’” (Thomas Long, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Preaching and Teaching: Hebrews, page 1)
When was it written? 70-100 CE
Before Clement of Rome (died in 99), who appears to have quoted it.
After some time to develop a Christology and theology.
No direct mention of Temple destruction in 70.
Where was it written? Possibly Rome
In midst of some harassment
“The reference to those from Italy sending greetings (13:24) suggests that Rome may have been the destination of Hebrews, as does its use in the late first-century letter of Clement of Rome.” (Robert Spivey and D. Moody Smith, Anatomy of the New Testament, fifth edition, p. 391)
What is it? A sermon
“First, when we read through Hebrews and compare it to other literature of its day, it becomes clear that what we call the Letter to the Hebrews is not, in fact, a letter at all… The main body of Hebrews bears all the marks of an early Christian sermon, what the author calls a ‘word of exhortation,’... Hebrews appears to be an example of a sermon that is rabbinical in its design, Christian in content, and heroic in length.” (Thomas Long)
The argument 3:1-10:18
Jesus is Son (3:1-4:13)
Jesus is High Priest (4:14-10:18)
The implications 10:19-12:29
“The preacher is addressing a real and urgent pastoral problem, one that seems astonishingly contemporary. His congregation is exhausted. They are tired - tired of serving the world, tired of worship, tired of Christian education, tired of being peculiar and whispered about in society, tired of the spiritual struggle, tired of trying to keep their prayer life going, tired even of Jesus… Tired of walking the walk, many of them are considering taking a walk, leaving the community and falling away from the faith.” (Thomas Long)
God used to speak through prophets. Now though, something has changed. The nature of our relationship with God is forever shifted because we no longer have messengers. We have the message.
Not undermining the message before. This should not be used to repudiate Jews or Jewishness.
“The word spoken in Jesus does not void the previous promises of God; it fuses, clarifies, and fulfills them; it brings them ‘to perfection.’” (Thomas Long, p. 14)
Jesus is the Son.
Son more important than a mere messenger. He is the message
Son is the light of God’s glory.
What did Jesus do?
Cleansing of sins
Sat down at right side of God
What gets cut out?
1:5-14 seven references to Scripture about God and God’s son.
Reinforces idea that Jesus is the Son, not just a messenger (prophet or angel)
This is a direct connection to God, not mediated.
2:1-4 Prepares listener for just how important this message is.
This is God’s message, and we must pay attention.
Glorious eternal Son, present at Creation, Expression of God’s glory
For awhile lower, suffered, died on Cross
Triumphant, resurrected, seated at the right hand of God and eternal.
Setting the stage for a more extended description of who Jesus is, was, and will be.
Jesus is eternal, suffered for awhile, and is eternal again.
Much of the rest of the sermon is detailing why this matters.
Creation is set up with intention of humanity being in control. It was all set right under humanity to take care of and manage.
Human sin messed everything up, now its all “out of control.”
Jesus then was sent to clean up the mess, and set things right again - to get things back under control.
Jesus is using people to put it all back together.
Jesus calls us brothers and sisters, which reveals that we are to be unified with Jesus - his life, death, and glory.
God’s grace is shown to us through Christ. This includes his suffering, death, and resurrection. The glory that Christ now shares is the glory that is offered to those who still follow. The “out of control” nature of this world is just for a short while.
Thoughts and Questions
Two themes of this passage - and all of Hebrews
Jesus is superior to all. Present in creation and in the eschaton.
Jesus really suffered, and this was necessary for the redemption of the world (not because of wrathful God, but for total union with humanity)
A Story about Theodicy (the problem of evil or how God can be good in the midst of great suffering)
Next four weeks are on Job! Beginning - Middle and End!
Major theological points of the book of Job by: Mayer Gruber, "Job: Introduction," in The Jewish Study Bible, ed. Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Publication Society Tanakh translation (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 1499-1500.
While some suffering is brought about by sin, sometimes the innocent suffer as well
to argue contrariwise misconstrues the character of the person who suffers unjustly as well as that of God
how God can be affirmed as good and just in the light of such innocent suffering is a mystery beyond our finite human comprehension
BACKGROUND - God and Satan
Tell the story of Chapter 1 before heading into chapter 2
Satan is not the evil anti-God as depicted in Milton or Dante, but rather the Satan (in hebrew Satan is preceded by the article “the”)
The Satan works for and on behalf of God- as a servant of God
Satan acts on God’s behalf in this story- not against God
Do not get bogged down in God and Satan discussion as that is not the focus of this story
FOCUS - v.8-10 and generally the book of Job
Where does suffering come from? From God or something else?
Job claims suffering comes from God-”shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
God as sovereign is tempting but also carries great difficulty- do you believe in a God who allows or even causes suffering?
Who suffers? The faithful or those who are unfaithful?
While some suffering is brought about by sin, at other times the innocent suffer.
Suffering is not a sign of sin - correlation, but not always causal
How do we respond to suffering? remain in relationship or leave?
Job remains in relationship with God - he does not “Curse God and die!”
Thoughts and Questions
All of the questions described in the FOCUS section can be explored by a congregation. We all experience suffering
We cannot control the world, but we can control how we choose to respond to the world and the joys and sufferings it presents
Is hardship an excuse to sin? No. Jesus too lost everything- yet remained faithful to the end. Explore why do we believe? because we anticipate good things for us or because our faith reveals the true essence of the world?
CS Lewis in the Screwtape letters, the demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood "Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's [i.e., God's] will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of [God] seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."
Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (psalmimmersion.com,@pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Misirlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Sunday Morning”,"Real Ride"and“Summertime”) and Bryan Odeen for our closing music.