This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
Billionnaire Larry Ellison buys a chunk of Hawaii
None Is Righteous
9 What then? Are we any better off?* No, not at all; for we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin,10as it is written:
‘There is no one who is righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one.’
13 ‘Their throats are opened graves; they use their tongues to deceive.’
‘The venom of vipers is under their lips.’
14 ‘Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.’
15 ‘Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 ruin and misery are in their paths,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.’
18 ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.20For ‘no human being will be justified in his sight’ by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.
Here Paul sets down the opening of an argument by which he means to explain the precise relevance of the rescue act of God in Jesus. He says, in effect, that God’s purpose in Jesus is to deal with sin. Modern thinking has so abandoned the concept of sin-it’s viewed as old-fashioned and guilt-inducing-that it’s hard for the the contemporary reader to grasp what Paul is saying. In sum, Paul says that sin is the power which closes off people from God the source of life and goodness, and death is the power which makes that closure permanent. Paul sees all human beings as under the power of sin because the evil they do separates them from God. This is especially evident to those who are under Torah, which makes clear both the evil deeds and the fact that evil separates the evil-doer from God. Any orthodox Jew will want to ask Paul what has become of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, when God’s pardon for the sins of the people is announced. It seems that Paul viewed such ritual as insufficient to restore fellowship between God and humanity or to free sinners from the powers of sin and death.
In this passage Paul emphasises that without exception human beings are enslaved by sin. If that seems excessively pessimistic to me I only need to look at the news or my own heart. The guilt-free amoralism of consumer societies is an expression of shallow optimism about humanity, a consequence of slavery to goods and services and a quick route to a deadly carelessness about oneself and others. Paul’s use of the biblical tradition to expose the universality of sin is salutary, that is, it points towards health.
Teaching about Divorce
19When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan.2Large crowds followed him, and he cured them there.
3 Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?’4He answered, ‘Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female”,5and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”?6So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’7They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?’8He said to them, ‘It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but at the beginning it was not so.9And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.’*
10 His disciples said to him, ‘If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.’11But he said to them, ‘Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given.12For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.’
Sometimes the Christian tradition is accused of being negative about sex. Theres no doubt that the Roman Catholic tradition has been negative – with disastrous consequences amongst its own priesthood. It needs to return to the teaching of Jesus which is very positive about sex. He says in effect that men and women are made for sex. The differences between the sexes are unified in the embrace of man and woman. Of course he also teaches that this sexual bonding is so fundamental that it cannot be treated as trivial. It is intended by God to be a life-long unity of lives. The Torah of Moses, Jesus said, was permissive legislation to bring the -hard-heartedness of men under some control. (We should note that in Jesus society a dismissed wife might have no resources of her own.)Obviously this teaching has caused difficulties, especially to the “innocent” parties in divorce. For this reason my own church has departed from the letter of Jesus’ teaching in order to permit the remarriage of divorced people, while still emphasising the goal of life-long marriage. Those who are reluctant to go further away from Jesus’ teaching are often portrayed as hard-hearted. I wonder if there is anything more hard-hearted than the prevailing casualness of both men and women with each other’s affections. Those who feel that their own “life-chances” are of course more important than their partner’s hearts, may easily be persuaded that their comfort is more important than the welfare of the poor and their happiness more precious than the lives of strangers.
Jesus is no way despises voluntary celibacy: those who give up sexual relationships for the work of the kingdom are valued but they are not in any way valued above those who share in what was created by God, “in the beginning.”
(Did Jesus have sex? Most Christians would answer no, some with horror. But if Jesus had not married as a young man and village builder, it would have been a cause of comment. So, it’s quite possible that silence of our sources on this matter means that he was married. Perhaps his wife died in childbirth. It’f s also possible that he was one of those who gave up sex and marriage “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”)