Right Relationships Posted 4-10-2003
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.
The 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.
All things bright and beautiful,
all creatures great and small
all things wise and wonderful
the Lord God made them all.
I learned this and sang it in Sunday School. It’s one of those great songs that, written for children, captures everyone’s imagination and brought us something of the essence of the Divine. These days there is a verse we leave out of the hymn:
The rich man in his castle;
the poor man at his gate
God made them, high and lowly;
and ordered their estate.
Cecil Frances Alexander (1818–1895), Irish poet, hymn writer. All Things Bright and Beautiful, Hymns for Little Children (1848).
The song says God made people rich and poor and that this is exactly what God wanted. I think we have a different understanding today.
What Cecil Alexander did in his hymn is one of the great traps for us when we seek to understand God. We all do it. We take what is, and we say “This is what God wanted.”
We confuse what happens to be within our culture, and may have been the case for a long time, with the Divine "will." Sometimes, what may have been seen as God’s will is found to be not so at all.
Jesus was an iconoclast… a breaker of values. He especially broke down people’s ideas of what was the correct way to relate to other people and to God. He introduced a new way of seeing people and how they should relate to people and to God.
He “is our model for right relationships between people. He treated all people with respect, holding them to be equally loved, respected and judged by God. Paul also affirmed our equal standing in Christ (Galatians 3:28), Equality involves the absence of domination and double standards.” Uniting Sexuality and Faith July 1997 And as the church has seen this, it has reflected on some of society’s double standards. It sees that rich people living in castles and poor people in hovels at the door is not God’s plan. That’s why we leave that verse out of the hymn. We realise it is sub-Christian.
In today’s reading some Pharisees came and asked Jesus, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" Understand that at the time divorce meant life went on for the man, but the wife was left absolutely destitute, with no social security, no means of earning an income and most likely rejected by her family. To divorce a woman was almost to write a death sentence if she was not become a prostitute or a slave.
Someone I was reading said “The Mosaic commandment quoted by the Pharisees actually represented an improvement upon other cultures’ customs of that day, where a woman could be dismissed without notice and therefore without protection. It was a step towards protecting the worth of those otherwise vulnerable to the whims of others. But Jesus takes the conversation a step further. For him, definitions of what we “can” do or have a “right” to do are secondary to considerations of what God intends us to do.”
Jesus acknowledges the “what is” of the situation. He says, “Yes, Moses said you can write a certificate of dismissal and divorce." But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But then he attacks what is. He distinguishes between Moses and God. God, from the beginning of creation, ‘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."
This is a statement of right relationships.You shall not live and act in such a way as to send someone to destitution or slavery or worse.
Another aspect of right relationships is faithfulness. You don’t give up on a relationship just so you can have someone else who is more attractive. Adultery is forbidden. You can’t make adultery somehow legal just by getting a divorce to have someone else, says Jesus. . 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 are not to be used and then discarded.
One of the Uniting Church’s papers says
4.14. Living as a new people in love and friendship is a radically different way of living. it is no soft option! It cuts across the individualism, self gratification and competitiveness which often typifies modern society. it is profoundly at odds with the way society tends to divide people into 'them and us', inviting suspicion and distrust, creating enemies rather than friends. Because of God's grace we are drawn to love others.
4.15. The Church needs to reflect on its own life, recognising those ways in which our life as a community of faith and as individuals mirrors society rather than reflecting the signs of our friendship with Christ. We need to hear again Christ's call to radical discipleship and seek God's strength to respond in penitence and faith. Uniting Sexuality and Faith 1997
Jesus calls us to examine even what is right. We do have authority over our children. This is right and proper. They need protection and guidance as they grow. They must learn the way to behave. They need to learn right relationships.
In Jesus time, children counted for very little. Loved though they may have been, they had little or no social standing. So although people “were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them” because they recognised his holiness…. Despite this, society thought they had no place there in the realm of adults. 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.”
Again, right relationships are about respect and equality for all people- even little children who have no status, and can be noisy and unruly and try our patience. All people are equal before God, even the weak and powerless.
All people have something to offer. Jesus said ““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.” Children can teach us something about openness and simplicity and acceptance of the gifts of God.
Jesus cuts across the authority of employers, or immigration ministers, or parents, or clergy whenever they would treat people as less than equal, and as less than other people, before God or law. It is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs…
We are constantly called upon to choose how we will relate to people. In our work and our church, in our families and in our friendships we are called to make choices.
Much of society and media characterise people who are witty, good looking, rich and successful, as worthy of more attention and value. Those who are slow, un-attractive, unsuccessful, living in the northern suburbs…. or who don’t fit into the kind of mould that leaves us comfortable… tend to get less attention and privilege.
All through the stories about him, and in the readings today, Jesus calls us to something better... Will we respond?