19th Sunday after Pentecost
19th Pentecost 19.20 “One” Gen. 2:18-25 Mark 10:2-16
“We’re one but we’re not the same…” as someone, I forget whom, once said. Which is why the one flesh union between husband and wife can be so fraught. I guess we need to talk about men and women and marriage today, because our Old Testament and Gospel readings kind of require it, whether we really want to our not (myself, I would rather have dental surgery, if the doctor is good, and the drugs are powerful). I really have been trying to think of a way to avoid the subject and just couldn’t think of a way that was not obviously cowardly, which is one vice I like to steer clear of, and when I can’t, I certainly won’t admit it… 🙂
Men, in general, should never talk about marriage. Because we really don’t know anything. And a happily married man might find talking about marriage within earshot of his wife can make the happy marriage much less happy rather quickly as a result. Speaking for a friend! I well remember the couple who came up to me before service one Sunday and the wife (not looking super-happy) said: “Pastor, we’d like a prayer for 30 years of happy marriage today.” And I said “Wow! Your 30th anniversary! Congratulations!” And the husband, staring at his shoes, goes: “Uhm, we’ve been married 36 years.” I knew instantly whose fault the 6 unhappy years were. And so did he.
In our Old Testament reading, we get a lot of information in a very few words. But reading carefully (and maybe just a bit between the lines) a clear picture emerges that is essential for men and women to see.
God said it was not good for man to be alone. He decided to make a companion for him. He formed every beast of the field and bird of the heavens and brought them to the man, who named them, but didn’t find a fit companion for him. Not even the dog, please, note well! A New Yorker cartoon recently showed a guy sleeping on the couch. There’s a dog laying on top of him who says to the cat perched aloof on the top cushion, “He keeps saying I’m his best friend and I just don’t have the heart to tell him I don’t feel the same anymore.”
So, the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on the man, and while he slept, took one of his ribs, and the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man and the man said “Wowser! Yes! By Jove, I think you’ve got it. Me likey!” And the woman is like “If this is the only choice for companionship…”
See, the woman is humanity v. 2.0. Sleeker, sexier, far less predictable—though with a bit higher maintenance requirements. Think Ford vs. Ferrari. The man is humanity v. 1.0, like a Ford truck: durable, sturdy, will go anywhere, though a little clunky, with handling that’s dull but predictable. The woman is like a Ferrari, all gorgeous curves, high revving engine, power-on oversteer!; on a good track, nothing better. But not the vehicle for crawling through the mud or hauling a lot of junk.
In I Peter 3, we read that husbands should “live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel…” but our Synod President Matthew Harrison pointed out years ago that the Greek is really more correctly translated as fairer vessel. Think Ferrari, not Jeep. Husbands understand this: she is far more sophisticated and sexy; and you’re lucky she puts up with you at all! Once he’s clear on that, the sailing is as smooth as can be.
This, BTW, is why the New Testament restricts the pastoral office and the OT the priestly office to men. Not because men are smarter or better—just the opposite: it’s because the ministry is dirty work, bloody and messy, and the fairer vessels are too beautiful and refined for that. Just like you wouldn’t take a Ferrari 250 GTO to the Baja 1000, so the ministry is too messy and menial for women—who are to be treated always by their husbands as the more sophisticated and beautiful humans they are! Humanity, v. 2.0!
I like to tell couples in pre-marital counseling that we should think of husbands and wives as drawn from two very different pools: the wife pool is a deep, clear, blue mountain lake fed by the purest, coldest spring water. The husband pool is like a swamp in the bayous of Louisiana. Scum on the top, mud on the bottom, with a thin layer of brackish water in between that’s just barely drinkable (in a pinch 😉 Once we all understand this, some happiness is possible.
So, we’re one, but we’re not the same…
Which is why the subject of divorce comes up in our Gospel for today. You can see how difficulties might arise, especially given the sinful disposition of both. The Pharisees come up to test Jesus and ask, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Jesus answered, “What did Moses command you?” They go: “He commanded us to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus (slapping his forehead) sighs deeply, and replies: “No. Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning God made them male and female so that a man should leave father and mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.”
One, but not the same. This is the mystery and miracle of the union of the woman and the man. In Matthew 19, Jesus says divorce is an option definitely less bad than murder. But if you aren’t going to kill each other today, then you should trust that God stuck you together for a good reason. And that good reason is what Jesus takes up in his arms and blesses—children.
The one thing most every husband and wife agree on is that their child is greater than they are, more beautiful and lovely. Jesus says when we receive one little child in his name, we receive him in the bargain. And he unites the woman and the man as nothing else can—one, but not the same.
In Ephesians 5, St. Paul goes over all of this, how the husband is to be like Christ, giving himself up entirely for his beautiful bride; and the wife should be like the Church, gladly submitting to Christ in love for her LORD. But, at the end, Paul says he isn’t really talking about marriage when he talks about husbands and wives and the love that binds, but he’s talking about Christ and his Church!
Strictly speaking then, the Bible has practically nothing to say about marriage between man and woman, but rather speaks essentially, always already of the marriage of Christ and his Bride, the Church. Our earthly marriages, with the spouses God has given us, are simply theaters where we act out the love Christ has for the Church—in which even sin plays a role that makes the love more profound. Just another way to pretend we’re like Jesus, ‘till the Day we really are.
Jesus took the muck and filth of our sin on himself, dirtiest Ford truck ever. Isaiah says “there was no form or beauty in him that we should desire him.” But, in being bloodied, bruised, finally broken by our sin, the incredible love of God shines from the cross and empty tomb as it never could have done otherwise. Out of the biggest mess, God makes a Ford that handles like a Ferrari.
Just so, in receiving Jesus with childlike faith, the messes and faults and failures we bring to our marriages are redeemed, transformed, made gorgeous—one, but not the same. In the Holy Name of Jesus. Amen.