“The Moment” taken by Delia Blackburn





Rev. Sarah Buteux

Proper 22B/ordinary 27B/Pentecost 19

October 4, 2015

Genesis 2:18-24

Mark 10:2-16


Outside the Box


Boxes. Labels. Institutions.

It’s so nice when they work.

Boxes keep the world organized.

Labels help us know who is on our side.

And institutions keep us in line.


For instance, it’s deeply reassuring to be able to peg someone as liberal or conservative, to know what box they fit into the better to know what we can expect.


Just as it’s incredibly efficient to be able to label someone – to know before someone even opens their mouth – what they are likely to say, which side of an argument they will favor, which topics are best to avoid, and whether or not we really even need to take them seriously at all.


And it’s remarkably comforting to know at the end of the day that no matter how much things change, there are certain institutions that will always stay the same. Institutions like the church and marriage that have withstood the test of time by remaining virtually unchanged for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. (For those of you in the way back, this is me winking).


Boxes. Labels. Institutions.

It’s so nice when they work.

Except that they don’t: not really, not entirely, certainly not reliably…world without end, amen and amen.


And sometimes, depending on whose side you’re on, that can actually be kind of fun, like when someone who is supposed to stay in one box jumps out and gives props to people in another box. Sure it’s transgressive, but if you’re in that other box it’s also a little bit titillating, no? Like when, say, I don’t know…the spiritual leader of one of the world’s oldest and most conservative institutions starts talking like he plays for the opposition. That can be kind of exciting.


I mean really, what liberal wasn’t charmed last week hearing the newscasters say things like, “Oh look, there’s the pope in a fiat! There’s the pope receiving a child of illegal immigrants. There’s the pope challenging income inequality. There’s the pope talking about climate change. There’s the pope meeting with Kim Davis.”


Wait… what!?!? Kim Davis, as in the Kentucky county clerk who refuses to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. That Kim Davis? Really?


But wait a minute, didn’t he say something nice about gay people once on a plane? Ok, maybe “nice” is too strong a word. Maybe it just wasn’t horrible. But still? Kim Davis?


When that news broke it was like all of America could be heard saying, “Dude, whose side are you on? Pick a box and stick with it so we can know whether we like you or not.”


But he hasn’t, and since that meeting, the clarifications and confirmations coming out of the Vatican have only made him an even more complicated figure.


It would seem that Francis doesn’t fit any more neatly into a box than do you or I. We may theoretically like the idea of boxes, labels, and institutions, but I think we’re really lousy at consistently conforming to or upholding any one of them, because we’re human –even the pope – and humans are messy.


We are unwieldy, unpredictable creatures and perhaps no institution reveals this fact more clearly than the institution of marriage. I made a tongue in check reference a moment ago to marriage being one of those institutions that has remained virtually unchanged for thousands of years, and I know a lot of people would like to think that, but it’s simply not true.


The definition of marriage, its purpose and parameters, has never been set in stone. People were arguing about it in Jesus’ time. They were arguing about it in Moses’ time. Indeed people have probably been arguing about it since the dawn of time, and they still are. The fact that we argue… really that’s the only thing that hasn’t changed.

And if you think the arguments back then were any less political or fraught or tied to issues of human rights, well… you’re wrong.


When a small group of Pharisees came and asked Jesus: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” they were pulling him into the center of a debate about marriage so fierce that whichever way Jesus answered he was bound to hurt someone, including himself.


You see back in Jesus’ day, there were two camps, two boxes, two sides of a debate about marriage, both of which relied on scripture and both of which had very powerful supporters.


The first school believed that God designed marriage for the purpose of procreation. They based their argument on the verses in Genesis 1

[1] where God creates humanity in God’s own image and bids them “be fruitful and multiply.” In the minds of these men, the purpose of marriage, and women for that matter, was to beget children.


The only legitimate reason, then, for a man to divorce his wife would be if she were either unable to bear him children or had been unfaithful and was therefore unable to prove that her children were his children.


The second school, relying on the verse Jesus alludes to from Deuteronomy, believed that a man could divorce his wife for any reason whatsoever because Moses said so. You know how we have no-fault divorce? Well back then, they had something more like, “Her fault divorce.”

Deuteronomy 24:1: “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something objectionable about her, (then he can) write her a certificate of divorce, give it to her and send her from his house.”

Can you imagine marriage on those terms? If I had a certificate of divorce for every time I did something that Andrew found objectionable… well, let’s just say I’d have a lot of paper.


It seems crazy, but if a man didn’t like the way his wife looked, or cooked, or talked, or aged, he could write “we’re finished” on a piece of paper, put it in her hand, and send her packing… a move that would have been utterly devastating for a woman and her children both socially and economically because women were property and a divorced woman was considered used goods.


The chances of her remarrying would have been slim; the chances of her finding a job … none. With no other recourse, she and her children would most likely have been reduced to begging if not worse.

Women and children were incredibly vulnerable under this interpretation of the law, and Jesus would have known that and no doubt been concerned about that, but had he come right out and said that, he would have rendered himself incredibly vulnerable as well. Because you see there was already a rather high profile case of “her fault divorce” taking up space in the public consciousness back then.

Y’all remember King Herod?


No, of course not. He was not a nice guy. Well he had just recently divorced his wife in order to marry his brother’s. A move that was definitely more of a booty call than a baby call, if you catch my drift.

Not only that, Herod had also, just recently, beheaded John the Baptist, for openly criticizing him about it.

So there’s the rub, the trick, the trap.

If Jesus comes down on the side of the Genesis 1 crowd he’s most likely going to get himself arrested and killed by Herod.

But if he comes down on the side of the Deuteronomy crowd he will be seen as supporting Herod, betraying the memory of his cousin, and upholding an interpretation of the law that treats women and children as disposable property.

So what’s a messiah to do? Will it be team Genesis or team Deuteronomy? Box #1 or box # 2?

Well, one of the things I love about Jesus is that he doesn’t fit neatly into boxes either. In fact, Jesus sidesteps the boxes entirely and does what he always does. He finds a third way.

He begins by acknowledging that thanks to Moses there is nothing illegal about divorce – score 1 for the Deuteronomy crowd – but before those folks can get too smug, he follows it up with a stinging rebuke, essentially saying that just because it’s legal for you to treat women this way doesn’t mean it’s right.

It’s “Because of your hardness of heart (that) he wrote this commandment for you,” says Jesus.

At which point I’m sure many in the crowd nodded and kept nodding as Jesus went on to reference Genesis 1: “ …from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female,’” quotes Jesus, leading everyone to believe he is now going to come down on the side of those who held that the purpose of marriage is procreation.

Score 1 for the Genesis crowd and make way for the soldiers because this is about to get ugly…

… except that…

…. Jesus doesn’t stay with Genesis 1. He skips ahead to Genesis 2, he skips over the line about being fruitful and multiplying, and instead says: 7‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8and the two shall become one flesh…’” and then adds for good measure “what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Friends, this would have given people a lot to think about. Jesus has just effectively moved the discussion out of the legal realm into a much more relational one and he’s done it in such a way that no one knows whose side he’s on any more.

By quoting from Genesis 1, Jesus was reminding the Deuteronomists that marriage was not just a legal contract or a business arrangement, but something holy and God given, rooted in the very foundation of creation.

And by skipping over the words “be fruitful and multiply,” he was reminding those in the Genesis camp that a woman’s worth was not determined by her ability to produce children, but by the fact that she too was made in the image of God.

Jesus then jumps to chapter two in order to remind them all that the true purpose of marriage from the very beginning was not wealth, children, or a man’s good pleasure, but love…love and companionship…for both partners (of any gender configuration as far as I am concerned).

So whenever you talk about marriage or divorce, says Jesus, how about you remember that, and treat both the woman and the God who made her, with a little more respect.


Jesus comes out in support of women here in a big way, doing all in his power to lift them up so that these men – whatever their views on divorce – will start viewing wives less like property and more like people.

And you need to hold on to that in order to understand the line that comes next, because it is perhaps one of the hardest lines to reckon with in all of scripture, especially for those of us who are trying to follow Jesus now.

The Bible tells us that Jesus, after schooling the Pharisees and evading their trap, essentially drops the mic and enters a house where: “10… the disciples asked him again about this matter.11He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery (against him).’

Now I’m not going to pretend this is easy…because it is not. We hear those lines and our first thought is: what do you mean remarriage is adultery?

Though I have to tell you, when the disciples heard those lines, I can almost guarantee you that their first thought was: what do you mean,“if she divorces her husband”?

Because, you see, there was no provision in Jewish law for a woman to do that.

I think Jesus is still focused here more on asserting that women ought to have rights within the context of marriage, than he is on the legalities around divorce and remarriage.

Either that, or he’s just really coming down hard on Herod and Herodias now that they’re in private. And yes, her name was Herodias. This line may actually have more to do with them then it does with us.

But that was then and this is now and these words are still with us.

So let me say this: I don’t think God likes divorce. In fact I don’t think anybody does. I’m not saying it isn’t sometimes necessary, or that you can’t have a good divorce, or even that divorce is a sin. Sometimes it is, yes you can, and no it’s not.

But that doesn’t change the fact that even the best ones hurt, and when we hurt, God hurts. In fact, if you take just one step back from this passage, I think it’s pretty clear that Jesus’ primary concern here is in mitigating the hurt that divorce causes by calling for us to give equal consideration to both partners in the marriage, especially if we are one of those partners.

I think his point is that something sacred dies when a marriage dies and that affects everyone in the family. But when, in the act of dissolving a marriage, you treat the other person or people affected as if they aren’t even people at all, well then the damage done is incalculably worse.

Don’t make it any harder than it has to be, says Jesus.

Because Jesus knows, as well as anyone, how hard it is to live on the outside, the other side, the underside, how hard it is to live a life that doesn’t conform to society’s expectations, let alone our own. He knew, firsthand, the pain of being judged, labeled, dismissed, and denigrated, and he wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

But he also knew the power of love, mercy, grace, and inclusion. And I think, above all, that is what he wants of us. He knows how messy we are. We can try to deny it with our boxes and labels and institutions, but honestly, at the end of the day, I think Jesus is looking for people with the courage love people even more, the creativity to step outside of our boxes, shed our labels, and allow our institutions to adapt in such a way that we find the grace to make room for all people to be treated with dignity and respect no matter what. After all, institutions like marriage were created for us, not the other way around – made to help us, not hurt us.


There is a photo from a wedding that went viral this past week titled, “The Moment[2].” Did any of you see it? Look it up if you haven’t. It captures the father of a bride reaching out to his daughter’s step-dad and inviting him to walk their daughter down the aisle. It’s absolutely incredible. The dad is so determined that you can tell it wasn’t easy for him. The step dad, so completely overcome with emotion, that you can tell it was the last thing he expected.

No one would have blamed those two men for avoiding each other like the plague at that wedding, but here is the one – in spite of all their pain and history – making room for the other, seeing him as her Dad too. It is a picture of one man transcending the status quo, saying the rules be damned, you belong up here too… a picture that captures just how powerfully subversive grace can be.

I confess, that it’s not the sort of grace I was feeling when I read about the pope toward the end of the week.


I was as put off as anyone when I heard he met with Kim Davis, but I don’t think it’s fair for me to dismiss him and all the good he has done because he doesn’t fit neatly into my box, anymore that it was fair of men in Jesus’ day to dismiss women for not fitting into their boxes, or for churches to dismiss a whole class of people for not fitting into the one marriage forever and ever box, or the heterosexual box, or the orthodox box, or whatever.


If today’s passage teaches us anything, it’s that we have no right to dismiss each other. Jesus calls us to see each other as people first, to treat each other as people first, precious people, bone of each other’s bone, flesh of each other’s flesh, be it in the context of marriage, divorce, or life.

God has joined us all together upon this earth whether we agree or not, and sure it’s messy. It’s really messy. But if we can hold each other with love and respect, whether we are reaching across the aisle or walking down it, God can redeem this mess and make of it something beautiful. What God has joined together, let no one put asunder. Amen and Amen.

[1] “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.


[2] https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=970437093026101&id=673664349370045