A reflection on Mark 10:2-16 by The Rev. Camille Hegg
I wish this reading were not in the lectionary anymore. It has always been, and still is, cause for controversy. The whole business of adultery and whether a person re marrying is committing adultery has been the cause of much pain in the church. Women abused by their husbands have been told to go back home and make things better, or to pray that God would so their husbands would act better.
I once had a mother come to me for counseling. Her daughter who was in her early twenties was in the hospital because the daughter’s husband had beaten her and she had a broken collar bone. She wanted me to pray for her daughter and her son in law, that the son in law would not hit her again. I asked her if she wanted her daughter to stay in the marriage and she replied, “Oh yes, marriage is sacred.” All of us reading this article know of very similar experiences. Violence against women does not seem to lessen.
For long history divorce in marriage was forbidden and women continued to be treated as property, or as unimportant as the small rocks an absent-mjnded walker kicks out of the way on his walk. When Jesus says that Moses granted that a man must give a wife a certificate of dismissal, we are invited to think this was an improvement. With the certificate she could prove she was no one’s property anymore. Perhaps she wouldn’t get beaten up so much. But she was turned out to fend for herself. Centuries later, through this passage Jesus broadens the issues and says whoever divorces and marries another is an adulterer. Seems to me that makes it worse. You can’t marry again without being another kind of sinner and the pressure to stay married because of this ‘teaching’ as caused much worse consequences. .
But I noticed something in this gospel that I never had before. Jesus says that when a woman divorces her husband and remarries, she get the same treatment. She is an adulterer, too. But she apparently is free to divorce.
It made me wonder: When did the ability of a woman to divorce her husband come into the culture? In the time of Moses? With the new covenant of Jeremiah? With Jesus and these words? I’m going to keep that question in my mind as I do some research. Perhaps the Greeks and Romans were already making it possible/legal for a woman to divorce and by the writing of the Gospel of Mark it was assumed.
I propose a look at the words of Jesus to broaden our images from this passage. Then maybe I won’t regret so much int being in the lectionary.
Various translations of the creation story describe God as creating a “fitting helper” or a “helpmeet,” or a ‘partner.” Some refer to a wife and we infer a woman when we hear the word wife. The terms ‘fitting helper” and helpmeet” broaden our images of what a life partner means. It scares some people, but it seems a natural process to enter into discussions about what fitting partnerships are. .Perhaps one day we will ask the question “when did unions of people of the same gender come into the culture and be assumed part of the culture?” There will still be controversy, and divorce, and hardness of heart, and adultery.
Let us broaden our images of adultery and hardness of heart. Making something impure or using cheaper materials than called for means it is adulterated. It’s more than what people do in their bedrooms. It’s what they do in their lives to themselves and others.
Any relationship or person can be adulterated. Issues in relationships involve power and the potential to abuse it; giving or withholding respect, lack of forgiveness. Sometimes couples grow apart through neglect and dishonesty. Hardness of heart should be an occasion for tears, repentance, and calling forth the most honesty, integrity and respect we can pull from our being. To do less is a kind of hardness of heart toward ourselves. To stay in an abusive relationship also implies a kind of hardness of heart and a lack of forgiveness of oneself for allowing such treatment. That is a kind of adulteration toward oneself and an occasion for tears and self forgiveness.
The more we know about the world, the more we realize that women are still being treated very badly in many parts of the world. Keeping girls from education, killing them for being raped, female genital mutilation, starvation, are just the surface. They are some of the varieties of hardness of heart. The people who foster these systems and these cruelties engage in a kind of adulteration of themselves.
We need divorces from these abuses and hardness of heart.