This blog provides a daily reading of Genesis and the Gospel of Mark. The series began on 1st January 2015 and can be accessed from my archives.Yesteday I spent all my time on Genesis so today I’ll concentrate on Mark.
Mark 10 Darby Translation (DARBY)
10 And rising up from there he comes into the coasts of Judaea, and the other side of the Jordan. And again crowds come together to him, and, as he was accustomed, again he taught them.
2 And Pharisees coming to him asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? (testing him).
3 But he answering said to them, What did Moses command you?
4 And they said, Moses allowed us to write a bill of divorce, and to put away.
5 And Jesus answering said to them, In view of your hard-heartedness he wrote this commandment for you;
6 but from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.
7 For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be united to his wife,
8 and the two shall be one flesh: so that they are no longer two but one flesh.
9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.
10 And again in the house the disciples asked him concerning this.
11 And he says to them, Whoever shall put away his wife and shall marry another, commits adultery against her.
12 And if a woman put away her husband and shall marry another, she commits adultery.
(This passage gives us a clue as to where Mark’s gospel was not written. The fact that it mentions the possibility of a wife divorcing a husband means that is almost certainly not written in Jewish territory, where there was no provision for women to do this. On the other hand, most places in the mediterranean world ruled by Greek or Roman custom would have granted women this right.)
Because Jesus’ command runs contrary to the divorce laws of most developed nations, this passage causes difficulty for many and hurt for some believers. But that should not prevent us from appreciating Jesus’ teaching.
In Jewish society women were subject to their men, and were economically dependent on their husbands. A divorced woman would have to return to her parental home or the home of a sibling. Divorce was catastrophic for a woman, who would normally lose her children at the same time. Mosaic Law demanded only that a husband make a formal declaration of divorce, indicating some “fault” in his wife as the reason for his action. Jesus interprets Moses’ law as a mitigation of the hard-hearted practice of expelling a wife with no declaration at all.
But then he does a radical thing: he appeals from the specific commandment to the will of God attested in the Torah book of Genesis. He ranks this passage above the commandment because it comes from “the beginning of creation”, that is, it expresses God’s creative purpose. “God made them male and female” – in his image and likeness! The sexual division of humanity as male and female is said by Jesus to be God’s way of making bengs which reflected his being. Neither man in himself nor woman in herself carry the primary image of God, but male and female together. Of course each man and each woman individually also possess separately what they are given together.
That’s why, according to Jesus, the sexes get back together again: they’re made for this. And the sexual act makes them one flesh. The unity is not of mind, soul, spirit or even body, but of flesh, the basic material of all living things. There are still two persons, two minds, souls and bodies, but one material existence. Jesus reminds his audience that this unity is intended by God, not just in a general sense, but as a creative act in each marriage. The will of God according to Jesus is that this unity should last until death.
Now we should note that Jesus’ creative interpretation of the Torah took place in a patriarchal society where women were disadvantaged and men had the right to divorce for little reason, and could indeed have more than one wife. We can note that Jesus was protecting women from manifest injustice and that the words about committing adultery may have been added by the first Christians, but we should not write off his teaching as relevant only to his time.
Jesus means that our practice of marriage reflects what we think we are as human beings. Of course it can change- Jesus was proposing a change in his day- but we should start our thinking about marriage by reflection on our human nature, and in the case of believers with our nature as created by God.
I don’t intend in this blog to engage fully in that reflection but I’ve noted these points to show what I think is involved.
1. We can’t think of our creation as human beings without thinking of evolutionary science. If God made us, that’s HOW Gd made us.
2. Perhaps we shouldn’t use the past tense. Both evolutionary science and St. Paul think that God is still creating and re-creating us.
3. Why has evolution produced significant minorities of men and women whose sexual identities do not fit the heterosexual model. Did God only make them male and female or did he also make them for example male and male or female and female?
4. Can we stick to Jesus’ rule in a society where life- expectation is eighty years rather than forty as in his day? (I think we can!)
These and many other points require discussion. Here I would only record my own abiding conviction that Jesus’ view of the sexual act as creating a very down-to-earth unity which should be faithfully maintained is profound and challenging. I think he would have been more concerned with unity, equality and faithfulness in sexual relationships, than with the gender of the participants. That said, I also think that the Christian tradition of male-female marriage is beautiful and meaningful and should not downgraded along with sexual prejudice.