“Then the man said, this at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh
for this one shall be called woman, for out of man this one was taken.” Genesis 2
“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” Mark 10
So reads the last sentences of the first reading and the gospel that were scheduled to be read this past Sunday, October 4. Sigh. My heart fell when I looked at these Scripture pieces and knew I had to write a homily about them. To say my heart fell would be an understatement. These readings are um, well a bit sexist. And by a bit, I mean a lot.
I stewed and fretted and fretted and stewed about what to do. Two thoughts came to me.
My first thought:
The gospels and other writings were written around 70 CE at the earliest. That means the stories were handed down orally for 70 years. How realistic is it to believe the stories were accurately handed down, word for word for 70 years? I don’t imagine our ancestors of 2,000 years ago had any better memories than we do! The moral of the story could have remained the same even with a close approximation of what was actually said or done.
We believe the writers were inspired by God to write these stories, but they weren’t dictated by God. Regular men wrote these stories, holy men, wise men, but nonetheless, human men. Today, these writers might be (among others) Sr. Joan Chittister, Fr. Henri Nouwen or Fr. Richard Rohr.
As these Scripture writings began to appear in the early Church communities, the community members decided which ones they wanted to use. Eventually Church leaders got together and over time figured out which books should make the final cut for what we now call the bible. But the writings they chose weren’t chosen by one person, they were chosen in community with other leaders.
My second thought was what we preach here at Holy Family about what we believe Scripture to be. We believe Scripture is alive and one of the touchstones of our faith. We believe it is still being written today with our own life stories. Since we believe Scripture is alive, it can be amended and used much just like the early communities did. If not, then Scripture wouldn’t be much more than a dry, dusty 2,000 year old text book.
So, what do we do when we come upon a piece of Scripture that no longer mirrors the experience of our communities? It is so easy to get stuck and moan and gripe about it. It’s even worse when some use these pieces of Scripture as a self-righteous tool to hit others over the head with. That makes Scripture a burden instead of a path toward God.
Here is what we did at Holy Family:
This is part of the first reading that was in the lectionary for us to read:
“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 God took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.
Then the man said, this at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh
for this one shall be called woman, for out of man this one was taken.” Genesis 2
Now, if you want to get technical, life comes out of a woman, not a man, but I digress.
Instead, here is what the lector read. It was from Genesis 1.
“God created people in the image God;
in the image of the Divine, God created them;
male and female God created US!
God blessed the people, saying:
“Be fertile and multiply;
fill the earth and subdue it.
Live with the fish of the sea, the birds of the air,
and all the living things that move on the earth.”
God looked at all of creation, and found it very good.”
That is a beautiful, flowing, grace filled description of creation, isn’t it?
Now, Hebrew Scripture was written around 1,000 years or so before Christian Scripture. No one at that time had any idea about how anything was created but they wanted a creation story, a story to explain how they got there. Genesis is that story. That story came out of their culture.
The first chapter of Genesis is a beautiful flowing chapter of grace and poetry. The second obviously comes out of a patriarchal culture and has no place in a church preaching equality. We merely swapped out one for the other.
Today we could add a third chapter all about evolution couldn’t we? We know how we were created. But the facts of creation don’t cancel out the beauty of the poetry of creation. Scripture and science can coexist very peacefully.
My point is this- there are three creation stories to use counting evolution. No one wants to sit and listen to the evolution history. We have that beautiful poetic piece of Scripture to use, why use that piece we were supposed to use with its patriarchal language and feel bad or angry about the language and tone? Let’s be adults about this, use our adult faith, bless that patriarchal passage, step over it and move on.
The gospel is another piece of Scripture that needed a little amending.
The part of the gospel I read was an optional piece. It came after the little asterisk in the lectionary that said “The shorter version ends at the asterisk.” The part that I read but could have left out was about Jesus wanting the little children to come around him. Can you picture Jesus sitting with children all around him, or better yet, playing tag or hide and seek with them? Jesus, in this passage of Scripture is calling us to have the eyes and spirit of children who are full of hope and wonder and awe at everything around them. That is a beautiful piece. Why would anyone want to leave out that piece?
Here is the part that I didn’t read.
“Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked,
Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
OK, stay with me, don’t shut down, this turns out well in the end, I promise.
“Jesus 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.
Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.
Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter.”
Still with me, here? It’s gonna turn out ok, I promise. If you can’t believe an excommunicated woman priest, who can you believe? (tee-hee)
“Whoever divorces his wife and marries commits adultery against her and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
Harsh words, those. Now. I just told you that the gospels weren’t written down until at least 70 years after Jesus’s death. Could the writer be coloring the teaching with his own thoughts? Could the writer have been an old curmudgeon who was stuck in a bad marriage, whose wife wouldn’t give him a divorce and so he wanted to make sure everyone stayed as miserable as he was? Could there have been a mistake in the translation, after all it was translated from Greek to Latin then from Latin to English. Could there have been a slip up there? Scripture was copied many times over by hand until the printing press was invented. Could there have been a mistake there?
However this passage ended up in Scripture, this piece doesn’t mirror our lived experience. For those who are divorced I imagine it dredges up some deep, deep pain. For those who aren’t divorced, these words might cause one to feel a little superior for not having divorced. These words might stop people who really need to be divorced. And the foundational argument, would Jesus really have preached this? Would Jesus want anyone to stay in a hurtful relationship? Jesus preaches about light and love, wouldn’t Jesus want us to seek the light even if it meant calling an end to a marriage that had already died?
Just like the early communities our Holy Family Community is going to decide what mirrors who we are and our lived experience by using our adult faith. We are going to amend this gospel. We aren’t going to toss out this Scripture; we can say ideally no marriage should have to end. But just as we learned about the reality of evolution, we know about the reality of marriage.
What do we at Holy Family believe about divorce? About remarriage? About marriage? What are some of our truths?
- That sometimes marriages die without either spouse dying.
- That no one goes into marriage thinking it will fail.
- That external circumstance, sometimes beyond the control of either person comes to bear on the marriage such as mental health or addiction.
- That if one finds love a second time or a third time they should grab it and hold on tight with both hands.
- That Jesus wants everyone at the communion table. Especially those who are hurting in a marriage that isn’t surviving or a marriage that didn’t survive.
Scripture is one of our foundational treasures. But it was written by human men. When we come across passages like the ones we were supposed to proclaim, let’s acknowledge they were written in a different time and move on. Let’s not be afraid to say certain pieces no longer speak to us, that they don’t reflect us. Let’s bring what we know to be true about God’s love for us when we read Scripture. We are adults with an adult faith life; let us use that faith when we read Scripture. Let others hang on to the literal words of Scripture if they want to. Life is too short to spend one minute debating outdated teachings. We have living and loving and praying to do!