St. Matthew's Lutheran Church

St. Matthew's Lutheran Church

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‘..was blind, but now I see.’
Sermon Mark 10:46-52
22nd Sunday after Pentecost
October 24th, 2021

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me; I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.
This must be one of the best known lines from a hymn. And maybe this is the most important verse to know by heart, because it summarizes what we believe as Lutheran Christians.
I am by no means implying that Lutherans are the only Christians who believe in the amazing grace of God, this grace which alone has the power to save us. But Martin Luther, the father of the church we call Lutheran, the father of the church we are a part of, made it very clear in the 16th century: it is through grace alone, and faith in the saving power of Jesus Christ, that we find salvation. And, amazingly, this grace is free.
He probably would have sung along to ‘Amazing Grace’, had this hymn been in existence in the 16th century, with conviction and a loud voice. I once was lost, by now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.
Martin Luther grew up in a in very pious times, with faith and church life penetrating every aspect of life. There was no such thing as secularism – that’s a modern concept. And faith life was by no means uniform, but influenced by local customs and superstitions. Many people in Luther’s day thought that they had to earn their salvation, through pious deeds, rituals, and financial contributions to the church. And the church in Rome did little to dissuade the faithful from doing good deeds for their salvation.
Luther became a monk out of fear of God: he thought that being a monk would afford him enough merits to gain God’s favor. However, Luther soon found out: it’s never enough. No matter how fervently he prayed, how meticulously he observed the rituals, and how hard he worked – he had the sense that he was still too great a sinner to deserve God’s grace.
It wasn’t until he became a professor of theology and studied the gospels in depth that he realized: God’s grace is a gift. God’s grace is free. We as human beings can’t do anything to earn it. It’s not about what we can do for God – it is about what God has done for us – sent the Son and died on the cross.
For Luther, this discovery was life changing. For the first time he felt that his eyes had been opened, and that he truly saw – instead of blindly following some misguided doctrine.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fear relieved – how precious did this grace appear the hour I first believed.’
It was Luther’s discovery and experience of God’s unconditional grace which led him to take on the Roman Catholic power politics of his day, and what we today call the Reformation and the Lutheran Church came about – and we will observe Reformation Day next Sunday.
Now, just for the record: in recent decades, the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church have been quite clear: yes, it’s all about grace. Nothing we do could earn us the grace of God. So Roman Catholics and Lutherans today agree on the doctrine of grace – but then there are a few other things we disagree about. So Reformation Sunday is not about glorifying a past in which Luther came up with this wonderful and original idea of grace and defied a blinded Roman Church; instead it is a day to celebrate the common ground we stand on: Jesus Christ who became incarnate to bestow God’s grace on humanity.
Today’s gospel story is very fascinating. Here we have one of the numerous healing stories we hear about in the gospels: an impaired person, in this case a blind man, calls out to Jesus and asks for restoration to health and wholeness. Jesus grants the request with the words, ‘Your faith has made you well.’
Matthew, Luke, and John mention this healing as well. However, there is one big difference: the man remains anonymous in Matthew, Luke and John. In Mark, he has a name: Bartimaeus. This is personal. And I will get back to that name in a minute.
Now, according to Mark, the healing of blind Bartimaeus is remarkable in other ways, too. According to Mark, this is the last healing Jesus performs on his way to Jerusalem and the cross. Also, we may hear Bartimaeus address Jesus as ‘Son of David’ and not think much about it. However, ‘Son of David’ is a messianic title. The blind man ironically is the one who sees Jesus for who he is, and he is the only one to profess it publicly. (Peter confessed before, but that was a private affair, and Peter didn’t really get it.)
Bartimaeus sees who Jesus is – the Messiah, Son of David, Son of God. Now let’s take a look at his name. Bartimaeus is a strange hybrid of Aramaic and Greek. ‘Bar’ means ‘son of’, so his name is quite literally ‘Son of Timaeus’. But what does Timaeus mean? Scholars don’t know for sure. But some say that is derives from an Aramaic word meaning ‘Unclean’ or ‘Corrupted’. So his name would be ‘Son of the Unclean/Corrupted’. And to the people in Jesus’ days, this would have made a lot of sense – they believed that someone born with a physical disability, like blindness, was bearing and displaying the sin of the fathers. Batimaeus’ blindness then would have been understood as the manifestation of the spiritual blindness, or uncleanness, or corruption, of his father.
And it was assumed that a physically blind person was spiritually blind as well. Instead of deaf and dumb, it would be blind and ignorant. Now, the Jewish people in Jesus’ days may have said to the blind man, bad luck, sorry, you are out of God’s favor, somebody did something wrong to have you turn out this way, it is God’s will, and there’s nothing that can be done about it.
But we learn two things about Bartimaeus. Firstly, he is anything but spiritually blind, but sees who Jesus is. AND we learn that he trusts in God’s grace – God’s mercy that can liberate him from his physical blindness and make him whole. Bartimaeus doesn’t deserve the help of Jesus, he doesn’t deserve the grace of God – but he is saved anyway. And what does Bartimaeus do once he is fully restored? He leaves his cloak and his past behind and follows Jesus. The gift is a call. Bartimaeus understands he cannot let this precious gift go to waste, but use it for the glory of God and in service to others.
Talk about a reformation! Now I think we all know that, despite the fact that we all have eyesight, we may sometimes be blind. Blind to injustice in this world, blind to the need of our neighbor, blind to the pointers God gives us as we journey through life, blind to a reality unfolding around us. The good news is: there is always hope. God sends the Holy Spirit, over and over, to help us see and understand – and of course that isn’t always pleasant. Who likes to acknowledge their blindness and their mistakes? And even better news: God loves us and showers us with amazing grace, even though we have our blind spots.
However, as today’s gospel and the story of Martin Luther point out: seeing has consequences. The gift is a call. We have the God-given responsibility to live our faith, and to constantly work for a reformation of this church and this world, so that it may reflect God’s reign of love and justice. To never leave this vision out of sight.
Helen Keller, who may be the best known blind person and activist, once said: It is a terrible thing to see – and have no vision.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining like the sun; we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise then when we’d first begun.
Dear Members and Friends of St. Matthew's,
'Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I'm found - was blind, but now I see.'
Who doesn't know this line? But what does seeing mean?
We meditate on this question in last Sunday's worship service:
https://vimeo.com/638418862
Have a blessed week!
Pr. Kerstin Weidmann
‘Man lernt niemals aus – One never stops learning’
Sermon Mark 10: 35-45
21st Sunday after Pentecost
October 17th, 2021

Let me start with a question: why do people worship, be it in person or, right now, via a screen?
Maybe people feel connected to that great cloud of witnesses, which transcends time and space, whenever they worship. Maybe these services feed them through the familiar words of song and prayer. And maybe they just long to listen to the Word of God – and hope to get something out of what I say in the sermon as I interpret the Word of God for our times and circumstances.
Now I have another question: how many sermons have you heard over the course of your lifetime? Hundreds maybe? Why do I have to stand here every week and preach to you? What things can I say that you haven’t already heard?
Well, it could be that you want to be reminded – reminded of God’s love for you, of God’s forgiveness, of God’s promises of eternal life to the fullest for all creation. We all get discouraged at times, and just need to be validated. And that’s what a sermon can do and should do.
But of course my hope as a preacher is that maybe I am telling you something that surprises you, something that makes you look at the familiar texts from the Bible in a different way, something that makes you think – no matter, how many sermons you have heard in your life. I have to say God’s Word surprises me again and again – just because circumstances change, my life experience gets broader, and I find things in the Scriptures that I overlooked or that didn’t speak to me in the same way, let’s say, 10 years ago. I find myself constantly learning as I immerse myself in God’s Word – and I hope you do, too. ‘Man lernt niemals aus,’ is a common German saying. One never stops learning. And this applies to God’s Word as well.
I think there is a good reason why Jesus’ first followers were called ‘disciples’ – which is closer to the original Greek word used in the New Testament than the German translation ‘Jünger’. ‘Disciple’ means pupil or student – someone who is dedicated to learning from a master, and follow a discipline as they submit to their teachings. And sometimes, a pupil also needs to be disciplined by the master.
Those first followers of Jesus were students; they learned from Jesus’ teachings and his deeds and tried to emulate him – be like him. And there was a lot to learn – even though Jesus’ teachings were based on Jewish traditions and faith, they revealed something new and radical: a loving and forgiving God, who envisions a realm for all creation where love and life to the fullest rule forevermore. Jesus’ teachings were also quite upsetting. The first will be last, and the last will be first. Whoever wants to be the greatest has to serve and humble themselves. The old has to die so that new life can spring forth.
Basically, the disciples had to un-learn many things and re-learn. And, as you may know, this is much harder than to learn something entirely new. Because you have to let go of things you are used to, you have to let go of notions you are so certain of. Your view of the world may be turned upside down. Why do so many people reject Critical Race Theory? I think it’s hard because then, history has to be re-written, taking a different perspective into account – and history has to be relearned. Maybe that even leads to accountability. That’s tough.
We see over and over again in the gospels how hard it is for the disciples to re-learn – and how they, though they follow Jesus so closely every day of their lives, don’t always get ‘it’ right away, but have to be taught again – and then again.
Today’s gospel story is a prime example for that. Let’s recap: James and John come to Jesus with the request that they want to sit next to him, one to the left and on to the right, in his glory. In other words, they want to be in the places of honor, right next to Jesus. Now in the olden days – and in more modern times as well – those sitting right next to the throne of the ruler of course were easily identifiable as the favorites of the ruler. They had the ruler’s ear, they were the ones influencing him or her. And yes, it was a desirable position to be in – but also quite dangerous, since such people were often the target of jealousy and intrigue.
So James and John want to be seen as the Lord’s favorites and bask in his glory. And don’t they deserve it – after all, they were among the very first ones to drop their nets, give up everything, and follow Jesus? Weren’t they, together with Peter, among Jesus’ closest confidants?
Now it’s important to look at the context of this story here. Jesus and his disciples have almost reached Jerusalem – and the end of their journey together. Just before today’s gospel story, Jesus told his disciples for the third and final time that he would have to suffer and die and rise again – and it’s getting real, for Jesus’ trial and death are just about a week away.
Tensions have been rising among the disciples. It was just a few weeks ago that we heard the story about the disciples quarrelling who among them is the greatest – and that happened just after Jesus told his disciples for the second time that he would have to suffer and die. Back then, Jesus already told them: God’s kingdom is not about greatness the way the world understands it. Those who humble themselves in service to others and don’t make a big deal about it are the greatest in God’s realm.
Did James and John hear what Jesus said back then? Did they get it? Apparently not. They want to sit next to Christ in his glory, they want to be the favorites, they want to be on top. The teaching about being last in order to be great seems too hard to swallow, too hard to fathom. For this is not how the world works.
Now, just as an aside: James and John want to be to the left and to the right of Jesus – ironically, just about a week later, there will be two totally different people to the left and right of Jesus: two men condemned as criminals, hanging next to Jesus on the cross. They share the place of shame, they share the place of glory with Jesus. And I don’t think that this is what James and John envision as they ask to be placed next to Jesus in his glory.
Now in fairness to James and John: the rest of the twelve don’t get the whole idea of humbling themselves for the sake of the gospel, either. For once they hear about James’ and John’s impertinence, they get angry at them. Who do these guys think they are? Don’t we deserve a spot of honor in the presence of Christ just as much, if not more?
All of the 12 probably would deserve an ‘F’ for the failure to understand what Christ is all about – what the kingdom of heaven is all about.
But Jesus teaches them again – and for some reason, I imagine him rolling his eyes and sighing as he does. ‘Guys, listen: Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve – and to give his life a ransom for many.’
It is safe to say that it will take some time for this lesson to truly sink in. The disciples are without orientation and clueless about what to do after Jesus’ death – and even right after his resurrection. It is not until the day of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit that they start carrying on Christ’s mission in service to others.
But, spoiler alert: even then not everything is egalitarian and coming up roses. If you read the Acts of the Apostles – the some of the epistles – very carefully, you will notice that there are rivalries between some of the former disciples, most prominently between Peter and not the James we hear about in today’s gospel, but the other James, the brother of Jesus. And later of course between Peter and Paul, the new convert. It’s hard to shed old habits. It’s hard to truly follow the teachings of Christ. It’s so hard to humble oneself for the sake of the gospel and the greater good – and vision of God. Don’t we all know it? We still have issues with all that, 2,000 years later. We still got to learn, to un-learn, to re-learn. Christ still challenges us today.
Wir lernen nie aus – we never stop learning. As followers of Christ, we are also disciples, students, constantly engaging with God’s Word. We are, after all, on the way with Christ, moving from one life situation to another, invited to look at the Scriptures from different angles and from the ever-shifting perspectives we gain.
With Christ, we got a ways to go. We got a ways to go – with Christ by our side. Amen

St. Matthew’s is the only Lutheran church in Northern California that has weekly services in both English and German. We look forward to welcoming you!

Operating as usual

St. Matthew's Worship (October 17, 2021) 10/17/2021

St. Matthew's Worship (October 17, 2021)

Dear Members and Friends of St. Matthew’s,
SORRY – we accidentally sent you the wrong link for today’s worship service earlier this morning. Here is the updated version:
‘Man lernt niemals aus – you never stop learning’ is a saying we have in German. Our brain (and heart) have an amazing capacity to absorb new things.
There is a reason why Jesus’ followers were and are called ‘disciples’ (which means students) – Jesus never ceases to surprise as he teaches a radical new way of living, which is focused on the kingdom of God.
Today’s worship service is all about what and how we learn from Christ. You find the link for today’s worship service here: https://vimeo.com/634617872
Have a blessed week!
Pr. Kerstin

St. Matthew's Worship (October 17, 2021) This is "St. Matthew's Worship (October 17, 2021)" by Kerstin Weidmann on Vimeo, the home for high quality videos and the people who love them.

10/05/2021

‘Living Together’
Sermon Mark 10:2-16
19th Sunday after Pentecost
October 3rd, 2021

Today is an important day on the German calendar: October 3rd is German Unity Day. This national holiday was established in 1990, on the day the German reunification was ratified by the German president – not quite a year after the wall between East and West Germany started to come down and the previously hermetically sealed borders were opened.

I don’t know if you remember pictures of the day the wall in Berlin started to come down: people rejoicing, strangers fraternizing and hugging, people dancing on the wall, dancing in the streets, partying all night long, and then some. What a day!

But quite soon it became clear that the work of reuniting a people that had been separated and divided for more than 40 years and lived in totally different political systems, each with its own perks and disadvantages, would not be easy. There was discontent in the East and the West. And we see the repercussions to this day, more than 30 years later. Last Sunday was Election Day in Germany, and it looks like the more centrist parties will continue to form the government. However the far left and the far right parties, which were founded after the reunification and reflect the discontent of people who’ve felt left behind – especially in former Eastern Germany – received enough votes to represent their disgruntled constituents in parliament as well.

And I don’t want to judge or analyze – that’s not my job and way beyond my paygrade – but what we learn from this endeavor is that it’s not easy bringing people together – I mean, truly together. We are just so different in our wants and needs and ideals. And there is this thing we call ‘sin’ – Martin Luther defines it as ‘being curved into ourselves’, which is, we tend to stare at our own navel and consequently don’t see what’s going on around us, what needs our neighbor may have.

And that’s not only applicable on a large scale – in general, it gets complex and complicated when people get together, when people form a relationship. In a healthy relationship, there is always give and take, compromises need to be made – functioning relationships require sacrifice. And that whole concept of sacrifice, of given up stuff for the sake of a greater good or goal, has become quite unpopular in a society that celebrates individualism and personal freedom – and the myth of the ‘self-made’ man or woman or person. And I am afraid that, more and more, we fail to see the importance of community, of working together, of fostering relationships – be it on a small scale or larger scale.

When we look at today’s lesson from Genesis 2, we see how far we are from God’s original idea of how to live together. Here we read that human beings were created to be with each other, to be in a healthy and functioning relationship with each other. But not only that: there is also this intricate relationship between humans and the natural world, all that God created, and the relationship with God. God’s intention for all of creation is interconnection and interdependence.

But then we know what happened: humans eat the forbidden fruit, they become self-aware – and start to be curved into themselves – and are expelled from Paradise. The delicate balance of relationships has been badly damaged. Things start to get complicated, and soon even deadly violent as Cain slays his own brother, Abel. What an ominous start for human history!

Fast forward to the time of Jesus. Things haven’t gotten any better. Relationships between people and between peoples, the relationship between humanity and creation, the relationship between humanity and God are still complex, complicated, and disturbed. That’s the main reason God became incarnate in Christ Jesus: to seek reconciliation between God and humanity, and to remind humanity of God’s original intention for human beings to not be alone, but live in healthy relationships. How often do we hear Jesus say, ‘Love one another?’

As Jesus and the disciples continue on the road to Jerusalem and what will become the outmost symbol of this reconciliation – the cross -, some Pharisees, teachers of the Mosaic Law, approach Jesus ‘to test him’, we read. Teacher, is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?

Now to our modern respectively post-modern ears, this is a very touchy and sore subject. It is for me, personally, since I am a divorced – and re-married – woman. Is it lawful to get a divorce? Well, in our society, it is, and personally think it’s important that we have this option. I can’t tell you how many women I have encountered who were in an abusive relationship – be it physically, emotionally, or financially abusive. No person should be forced to remain in a marriage – or shamed into remaining in a marriage - that is abusive, or where more damage is done than good. This is not what God intended.

In Jesus’ days, women in general were defined through their marriage – as was the case in this country until the early 1970s (remember when you couldn’t have your own credit card, but it had to be in your husband’s name, ladies?). Women in Jesus’ days had no status and very limited rights. A woman without a man was practically nothing – that’s why the Mosaic Law prescribed the so-called ‘Levirate marriage’ – if a woman became a widow, the next of kin of her late husband was technically obliged to marry her and thus give her protection. Although the next of kin could refuse, leaving a woman and her children high and dry.

Because a woman practically had no rights, she also couldn’t divorce her husband. Only a man was given this option and this power. That’s why those Pharisees coming to Jesus don’t even bother mentioning whether or not it is lawful for a woman to divorce her husband.

Now Jesus doesn’t want to be trapped by the Pharisee’s question. He asks back, ‘What did Moses command you?’

Now, did you catch that? Jesus doesn’t ask, ‘What does God command you? Apparently Jesus acknowledges that there is a difference between God’s commands and intentions and human appropriation of what is perceived as God’s will.

And the Pharisees are the ones who become trapped. ‘Well, Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.’ And, yes, we indeed find such a law in the Book of Deuteronomy. The point is, the Pharisees acknowledge that this law rather expresses human intentions than God’s intentions.

And so Jesus can reply, ‘It is because of your hardness of heart that Moses wrote this commandment for you.’ Whoa, Jesus goes in the full offensive here. YOUR hardness of heart, Moses wrote this command for YOU. Jesus is attacking these self-righteous men, who have the power to ruin a woman at a whim by divorcing and dismissing her – and often, a dismissed woman would be disgraced and seen as ‘damaged goods’. She lost her status, she lost her protection. It is quite clear that Jesus has the welfare of women in mind when goes on to say that it may be lawful for a man to divorce his wife, but that this doesn’t make it right. God’s intention for human beings is to live in healthy relationships – relationships where everyone does their part to make it work. Relationships where everyone brings sacrifices for the greater good.

Would Jesus want a woman, or any person, for that matter, to remain in an unhealthy or even abusive relationship? I for one don’t find anything in the sayings of Jesus that condones violent behavior against a spouse or any family member. One also has to weigh the options: what sin is greater? To allow abuse to happen, or to be released from an abusive relationship?

And remember the story where Jesus meets the woman at the well – and reveals himself to her as the Messiah, even though she’s had 7 husbands? Jesus doesn’t discard her or condemn her, but grants her healing and uses her to be the first one to spread the good news among the Samaritans.

God knows relationships are complicated. Christ knows that we are East of Eden, far from Paradise and its original state of utmost trust and harmony. A divorce, be in back in the old days or today, is but an expression of the inability of most human beings to live in perfect or at least well-balanced relationships. I said it before, and I say it again: the main reason God became incarnate in Christ Jesus was to seek reconciliation between God and humanity, and to remind humanity of God’s original intention for human beings to not be alone, but live in healthy relationships.

God has never dismissed us, despite our shortcomings, despite the fact that we have such a hard time living in truly loving relationships. God holds on to us, forgives us, and promises us healing and wholeness. At the same time, we are called and encouraged to do our best as we love God, neighbor, and ourselves, as we seek to live in healthy relationships in which we truly give and take.

‘Living Together’
Sermon Mark 10:2-16
19th Sunday after Pentecost
October 3rd, 2021

Today is an important day on the German calendar: October 3rd is German Unity Day. This national holiday was established in 1990, on the day the German reunification was ratified by the German president – not quite a year after the wall between East and West Germany started to come down and the previously hermetically sealed borders were opened.

I don’t know if you remember pictures of the day the wall in Berlin started to come down: people rejoicing, strangers fraternizing and hugging, people dancing on the wall, dancing in the streets, partying all night long, and then some. What a day!

But quite soon it became clear that the work of reuniting a people that had been separated and divided for more than 40 years and lived in totally different political systems, each with its own perks and disadvantages, would not be easy. There was discontent in the East and the West. And we see the repercussions to this day, more than 30 years later. Last Sunday was Election Day in Germany, and it looks like the more centrist parties will continue to form the government. However the far left and the far right parties, which were founded after the reunification and reflect the discontent of people who’ve felt left behind – especially in former Eastern Germany – received enough votes to represent their disgruntled constituents in parliament as well.

And I don’t want to judge or analyze – that’s not my job and way beyond my paygrade – but what we learn from this endeavor is that it’s not easy bringing people together – I mean, truly together. We are just so different in our wants and needs and ideals. And there is this thing we call ‘sin’ – Martin Luther defines it as ‘being curved into ourselves’, which is, we tend to stare at our own navel and consequently don’t see what’s going on around us, what needs our neighbor may have.

And that’s not only applicable on a large scale – in general, it gets complex and complicated when people get together, when people form a relationship. In a healthy relationship, there is always give and take, compromises need to be made – functioning relationships require sacrifice. And that whole concept of sacrifice, of given up stuff for the sake of a greater good or goal, has become quite unpopular in a society that celebrates individualism and personal freedom – and the myth of the ‘self-made’ man or woman or person. And I am afraid that, more and more, we fail to see the importance of community, of working together, of fostering relationships – be it on a small scale or larger scale.

When we look at today’s lesson from Genesis 2, we see how far we are from God’s original idea of how to live together. Here we read that human beings were created to be with each other, to be in a healthy and functioning relationship with each other. But not only that: there is also this intricate relationship between humans and the natural world, all that God created, and the relationship with God. God’s intention for all of creation is interconnection and interdependence.

But then we know what happened: humans eat the forbidden fruit, they become self-aware – and start to be curved into themselves – and are expelled from Paradise. The delicate balance of relationships has been badly damaged. Things start to get complicated, and soon even deadly violent as Cain slays his own brother, Abel. What an ominous start for human history!

Fast forward to the time of Jesus. Things haven’t gotten any better. Relationships between people and between peoples, the relationship between humanity and creation, the relationship between humanity and God are still complex, complicated, and disturbed. That’s the main reason God became incarnate in Christ Jesus: to seek reconciliation between God and humanity, and to remind humanity of God’s original intention for human beings to not be alone, but live in healthy relationships. How often do we hear Jesus say, ‘Love one another?’

As Jesus and the disciples continue on the road to Jerusalem and what will become the outmost symbol of this reconciliation – the cross -, some Pharisees, teachers of the Mosaic Law, approach Jesus ‘to test him’, we read. Teacher, is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?

Now to our modern respectively post-modern ears, this is a very touchy and sore subject. It is for me, personally, since I am a divorced – and re-married – woman. Is it lawful to get a divorce? Well, in our society, it is, and personally think it’s important that we have this option. I can’t tell you how many women I have encountered who were in an abusive relationship – be it physically, emotionally, or financially abusive. No person should be forced to remain in a marriage – or shamed into remaining in a marriage - that is abusive, or where more damage is done than good. This is not what God intended.

In Jesus’ days, women in general were defined through their marriage – as was the case in this country until the early 1970s (remember when you couldn’t have your own credit card, but it had to be in your husband’s name, ladies?). Women in Jesus’ days had no status and very limited rights. A woman without a man was practically nothing – that’s why the Mosaic Law prescribed the so-called ‘Levirate marriage’ – if a woman became a widow, the next of kin of her late husband was technically obliged to marry her and thus give her protection. Although the next of kin could refuse, leaving a woman and her children high and dry.

Because a woman practically had no rights, she also couldn’t divorce her husband. Only a man was given this option and this power. That’s why those Pharisees coming to Jesus don’t even bother mentioning whether or not it is lawful for a woman to divorce her husband.

Now Jesus doesn’t want to be trapped by the Pharisee’s question. He asks back, ‘What did Moses command you?’

Now, did you catch that? Jesus doesn’t ask, ‘What does God command you? Apparently Jesus acknowledges that there is a difference between God’s commands and intentions and human appropriation of what is perceived as God’s will.

And the Pharisees are the ones who become trapped. ‘Well, Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.’ And, yes, we indeed find such a law in the Book of Deuteronomy. The point is, the Pharisees acknowledge that this law rather expresses human intentions than God’s intentions.

And so Jesus can reply, ‘It is because of your hardness of heart that Moses wrote this commandment for you.’ Whoa, Jesus goes in the full offensive here. YOUR hardness of heart, Moses wrote this command for YOU. Jesus is attacking these self-righteous men, who have the power to ruin a woman at a whim by divorcing and dismissing her – and often, a dismissed woman would be disgraced and seen as ‘damaged goods’. She lost her status, she lost her protection. It is quite clear that Jesus has the welfare of women in mind when goes on to say that it may be lawful for a man to divorce his wife, but that this doesn’t make it right. God’s intention for human beings is to live in healthy relationships – relationships where everyone does their part to make it work. Relationships where everyone brings sacrifices for the greater good.

Would Jesus want a woman, or any person, for that matter, to remain in an unhealthy or even abusive relationship? I for one don’t find anything in the sayings of Jesus that condones violent behavior against a spouse or any family member. One also has to weigh the options: what sin is greater? To allow abuse to happen, or to be released from an abusive relationship?

And remember the story where Jesus meets the woman at the well – and reveals himself to her as the Messiah, even though she’s had 7 husbands? Jesus doesn’t discard her or condemn her, but grants her healing and uses her to be the first one to spread the good news among the Samaritans.

God knows relationships are complicated. Christ knows that we are East of Eden, far from Paradise and its original state of utmost trust and harmony. A divorce, be in back in the old days or today, is but an expression of the inability of most human beings to live in perfect or at least well-balanced relationships. I said it before, and I say it again: the main reason God became incarnate in Christ Jesus was to seek reconciliation between God and humanity, and to remind humanity of God’s original intention for human beings to not be alone, but live in healthy relationships.

God has never dismissed us, despite our shortcomings, despite the fact that we have such a hard time living in truly loving relationships. God holds on to us, forgives us, and promises us healing and wholeness. At the same time, we are called and encouraged to do our best as we love God, neighbor, and ourselves, as we seek to live in healthy relationships in which we truly give and take.

Location

Telephone

Address


3281 16th St
San Francisco, CA
94103-3323
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