Monday, September 28, 2015

Relationships of Compassion – 4 October 2015 – Lectionary 27/ Proper 22

This post is being composed even as the United States is still revelling in the visit from Pope Francis. You may have been reminded of Mark 10:13-16 (as I was!) when – en route to the Capitol in Washington D.C. while riding in the popemobile – Francis instructed the Secret Service not to make the children stay back but to let them come forward. Some little children were then brought forward for him to kiss and bless.

The disciples wanted to keep children away from Jesus. The Pharisees want Jesus to stumble over a matter of law. Jesus cuts through the walls and the games, seeing “hardness of heart” where there ought to be compassion.

Focus today might best deal with the deepest goodness of relationships, how they can be life-giving, and that they should not be allowed to kill the spirit or harm the body, while also acknowledging the pain that comes to circles of friendship and family over any divorce. 

Consider the meaning of Jesus’ admonition to “receive the dominion of God as a little child…” To do so is to travel beyond legalities and limitations established for self-protection, such as fences meant to keep people away from each other.

Mark 10:2-16

The Pharisees inquire whether divorce is lawful, although Deuteronomy 24:1–4 provided a mechanism for divorce and permitted remarriage after divorce. . . It may be that Jesus' interrogators wished to compare Jesus to the famous teachers of the previous century, Hillel (who advocated a rather permissive approach to divorce) and Shammai (who proposed very strict limits for divorce). Or it may be that . . . the question was asked in order to get Jesus to speak against scripture.

It is worth noting that Jesus doesn't actually answer the question of whether divorce is lawful. . .  Instead Jesus indicates that the law permitting divorce is an accommodation to human sinfulness. . . .

This passage invites reflection on how the church seeks to be true to the word of its Lord while also listening for the voice of the Spirit of God in the present day. Consider, for example, how the private teaching in the house (10:10–12) appears to be Mark's effort to adapt Jesus' teaching in its Palestinian setting to the (Roman?) setting of Mark's community. A woman was not permitted to divorce her husband under Jewish law. This was possible, however, under Roman law. It is worth noting, then, that Mark expands Jesus' restriction on divorce to apply to both men and women. The label of adultery for remarriage after divorce, however, applies only to the one who initiated the divorce; remarriage after divorce is not explicitly prohibited for the other party.

The passage concludes with Jesus blessing little children, against the self-important protestations of the disciples. Jesus declares that the reign of God belongs to those, like children, who are regarded as insignificant by those attempting to build their own kingdoms. – Aaron Couch

I have long called to mind a quote from Willa Cather that “… human relationships are the tragic necessity of human life.” (This is from a 1936 essay on Katherine Mansfield’s fiction). Cather points to every ego “half the time greedily seeking [the relationship], and half the time pulling away…” Yet, the push-and-pull may be what gives the rich dynamism of relationships that feeds the spirit. According to the Genesis creation story, it is God’s intention to make what is “good” and also diverse.

Genesis 2:18-24

Genesis declares with deep wisdom that it is not good for human beings to be alone. . . . The partner God gives is, paradoxically, both very much like the man and at the same time the opposite of the man (the preposition neged carries connotations of vis à vis or “over against”). Even though this truth runs against popular notions of romance, it may be intuitively grasped by couples who have learned to listen carefully to each other through years of lived commitment to shared life. There always remains an irreducible element of mystery and otherness to the partner given as a gift by God. – Aaron Couch

And what of our relationship with God upon whom all goodness depends?

Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

The opening, 1:1–4, serves as a thematic summary of the entire book: Christ is God's Son, the supreme revelation of God's own self. Christ is superior to angels and has accomplished our salvation.

Chapter 2 introduces an exhortation to faith. The author ominously hints at a terrible punishment for neglecting Christ's message, but then invites the reader to contemplate Jesus' saving work. . . as our high priest before God. – Aaron Couch

Relationships of compassion come from the divinely inspired view that we are all connected – just the message we received from Pope Francis. 

Aaron Couch is a co-pastor of First Immanuel Lutheran Church in Portland, Oregon.

Homily Service 39, no. 11 (2006): 15-25.

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