Week of 7 Epiphany: Friday, Year 1   18 comments

Above: Wedding Rings

Proper Human Relations are Grounded in Love

FEBRUARY 24, 2017

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 6:5-17 (Revised English Bible):

Pleasant words win many friends,

and affable talk makes acquaintance easy.

Live at peace with everyone:

accept advice, however, from but one in a thousand.

When you make a friend, begin by testing him,

and be in no hurry to give him your trust.

Some friends are loyal when it suits them

but desert you in time of trouble.

Some friends turn into enemies

and shame you by making the quarrel public.

Another may sit at your table

but in time of trouble is nowhere to be found;

when you are prosperous, he is your second self

and talks familiarly with your servants,

but if you come down in the world, he turns against you

and you will not see his face again.

Hold your enemies at a distance,

and keep a wary eye on your friends.

A faithful friend is a secure shelter;

whoever finds one, finds a treasure.

A faithful friend is beyond price;

there is no measure of his worth.

A faithful friend is an elixir of life,

found only by those who fear the Lord.

Whoever fears the Lord directs his friendship aright,

for he treats a neighbour as himself.

Psalm 119:17-24 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

17 Deal bountifully with your servant,

that I may live and keep your word.

18 Open my eyes, that I may see

the wonders of your law.

19 I am a stranger here on earth;

do not hide your commandments from me.

20 My soul is consumed at all times

with longing for your judgments.

21 You have rebuked the insolent;

cursed are they who stray from your commandments!

22 Turn from me shame and rebuke,

for I have kept your decrees.

23 Even though rulers sit and plot against me,

I will meditate on your statutes.

24 For your decrees are my delight,

and they are my counselors.

Mark 10:1-12 (Revised English Bible):

On leaving there he came into the regions of Judaea and Transjordan.  Once again crowds gathered round him, and he taught them as was his practice.  He was asked,

Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?

The question was put to test him.  He responded by asking,

What did Moses command you?

They answered,

Moses permitted a man to divorce his wife by a certificate of dismissal.

Jesus said to them,

It was because of your stubbornness that he made this rule for you.  But in the beginning, at the creation, “God made them male and female.”  ‘That is why a man leaves his father and mother, and is united to his wife, and the two become one flesh.’  It follows that they are no longer two individuals:  they are one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, man must not separate.

When they were indoors again, the disciples questioned him about this.  He said to them,

Whoever divorces his wife and remarries commits adultery against her; so too, if she divorces her husband and remarries, she commits adultery.

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The Collect:

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?

Take it to the Lord in prayer;

In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,

Thou wilt find a solace there.

–Joseph Scriven, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”

Printed in the Cokesbury Worship Hymnal (1938)

Experience has taught me that one knows who one’s friends are when one needs help the most.  Those we think of as friends but who are not really friends reveal their true nature when the chips are down.  These individuals are really hangers-on, I suppose.  But true friends are indeed gifts from God and emissaries thereof.  Count yourself fortunate if you have even one such person in your life, for such individuals demonstrate the best of phileo, or brotherly love.

And who should be better friends than two married people?  That, at least, is the ideal.  With that in mind, let us examine the text of Mark 10:1-12 closely.  Some Pharisees ask Jesus a question as a test of his orthodoxy.  The standard of orthodoxy from which they worked was the Law of Moses.  So consider Deuteronomy 24:1-4 (Revised English Bible):

If a man has taken a woman in marriage, but she does not win his favour because he finds something offensive in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her, and dismisses her, and if after leaving his house she goes off to become the wife of another man, and this second husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her, and dismisses her, or dies after making her his wife, then her first husband who had dismissed her is not free to her to be his wife again; for him she has become unclean.  This would be abominable to the LORD, and you must not bring sin upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you as your holding.

According to the Law of Moses, only a man could initiate a divorce (on grounds of “something offensive,” which is to say, usually adultery), but, if he did, he had to grant his ex-wife a certificate of divorce so that she could remarry.  This was for the woman’s protection, for society was strongly patriarchal and women were generally economically dependent on men.  The playing field was uneven, with women having fewer rights than men.  A woman could ask for a divorce, but only a man could grant it.

Schools of thought differed on what constituted “something offensive” in the wife.  Adultery was certainly offensive, but some interpreted this condition to apply even to spoiling a dish of food or speaking disrespectfully of in-laws.  Consequently, many men divorced their wives for trivial reasons and place these women at great economic peril.  So Jesus condemned this practice and affirmed the value of women.  Females, he said, are people to cherish; they are things to throw away casually.

This is an apt setting in which to consider New England Puritan family law.  Puritans have a reputation as very strict and humorless people.  I know that they hanged falsely convicted women as witches and crushed an innocent man to death while trying to convince him to confess to being a warlock in 1692-1693, but Puritan family law was more favorable to women than some might guess.  Puritans believed that marriage exists for the sake of the family, and were sufficiently realistic to understand that preservation of the family requires divorce in some cases.  Professor Edmund Morgan, in The Puritan Family (Second Edition, 1966), wrote, “The grounds for divorce, as revealed by the statement of the ministers, were adultery, desertion, and absence for a length of time to be determined by the civil government.”  (page 36)  Wives sued successfully for divorce from husbands who had abandoned them.  (page 37)  Other legally valid causes of divorce were “natural capacities, and insufficiencies,” bigamy, and incest.  (page 35)  In addition, civil law forbade married men and women to strike each other, and courts enforced this rule.  (page 39)  In brief, lawful divorce flowed from one party disregarding a fundamental duty of marriage, as Puritans defined such matters.  The fundamental duties were  “peaceful cohabitation, sexual union and faithfulness, and economic support of the wife by the husband.”  (pages 41-42) The innocent party in the divorce proceeding was free to remarry.  (page 37) These laws treated women like people, not objects.

I know of a United Methodist clergywoman who divorced her first husband on the grounds of attempted murder.  Would any reasonable person deny her that divorce?

There are two parts of the law:  the letter and the spirit.  Clever legalists know how to manipulate the letter of the law to benefit themselves while violating the spirit of the law.  But let us honor the spirit of the law.  Let us respect one another and treat each other as human beings with dignity, people nobody has the right to throw away casually and place at undue risk.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/08/14/grounded-in-love/

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18 responses to “Week of 7 Epiphany: Friday, Year 1

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