Thursday, October 1, 2009

Where Do We Focus?

This week's scriptures are Psalm 26 and Mark 10:2-16.

The passage from Mark this week is very difficult for me. First of all, as a divorced person (and happily re-married) it is a judgement passage. It holds the failures of both my ex-wife and I up against the light of God's standard and desire for human relationships.

Second, it is a difficult passage because it is one of the most abused passages in scripture. For centuries it has been used to keep (particularly) women in abusive, harmful relationships. It isn't enough that they were being battered at home; when they brought their plight to other christians (particularly pastors) they were battered spiritually there as well.

So let me say this a man, as a pastor, as a christian: if you are in an abusive relationship, if you are being consistantly harmed, physically or emotionally....LEAVE. LEAVE NOW. If you are a woman, man, straight, gay, doesn't matter....LEAVE. Find a safe friend, or a shelter (your local crisis hot line can direct you to one). All those promises...the ones that keep getting broken over and over...DON'T BELIEVE THEM....LEAVE.

Can people change? Absolutely! But let your abusive partner change while you're in a safe place. Let them do the work on themselves that they need to do while you're doing your work on you. Then you can do some work together. But Please, don't stay on that merry-go-round where you're walking on eggshells around your partner as the tension builds til they blow up, only to come back later and 'make up' with promises that it'll never happen again; only to start the cycle all over again.

We're talking serious stuff here folks. In the United States approximately 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually. If you're one of're one of the "little ones" Jesus was so concerned about. Jesus wants you safe, healthy, alive. Jesus wants you to have the kind of relationship that he talks about marriage being truly created for in this passage. If your marriage can be healed, there are people who can help...if it can't, Jesus will stand next to you while you pack your bags.

If you're reading this and you're one of the women or men being abused; my prayer is that you will hear God speaking to you through this to get the help you need.

If you're reading this and you're one of the abusive partners...let God speak to you as well. There is help for you. You can change your behavior. You can give up the rage and pain you've been carrying so long and become the loving, caring partner you were meant to be....but you have to STOP THE ABUSE NOW and get the help you need.

And finally, for those of us blessed to be in non-abusive relationships....we need to open our eyes; stop ignoring the signs; and reach out to those locked in this cycle of violence.

We can focus, like the Pharisees on rules and excuses and arguments; or we can focus like Jesus on the God given meaning of intimate relationships and the protection of the 'little ones'....whether they are the children of the violence ridden couple or the couple themselves. We can be true agents of "Shalom"-"God's Peace"....this isn't an easy task....but then, Jesus never said it would be.

Hope to see you Sunday.


Jeremy said...

Two things to say up front:

I couldn't agree more with the need for what Stephen is advocating here. Secondly, I couldn't agree more with the course of action Stephen has outlined here for anyone (married, committed relationship, friends, family, of any age, gender, etc.) in an abusive relationship.

Where I have trouble with this passage is that it is one of the few that seems very straightforward. It seems too clear for that clarity to be ignored, if that makes sense. How do we take this passage and arrive at what Stephen and others rightly advocate? What do we know of marriage customs at this time and place? What impact does that have on our understanding of what Jesus is saying to the disciples and the Pharisees? Or is this a case where our social reality is so different from that of the 1st-2nd centuries that it is not understandable to us?

I just don't want to get into trying to potentially adjust scripture meanings to fit into our lives and worldview. That is far different than establishing the scripture's context.

Kara said...

I think one way to reconcile the apparent absolutism of this passage with the realities of harmful relationships is to look more closely at the passage.

Jesus seems to be rebuking Moses' law that permits divorce. In the NIV version, the pharisees quote the law to him as "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away."

'Send her away.' Poof. All done with that one. Not my problem any more. I think that's the kind of divorce the Jesus is condemning here. The idea that you can simply fill out a piece of paper and give up on the person you've promised to love and nurture for life.

The fact that Jesus DOESN'T go onto to say, "even if they abuse you," or any other conditions is enough to keep me from making assumptions. Since he didn't speak directly about abuse or otherwise unhealthy relationships, I'm no going to assume that he meant to include them. I think he was just saying people shouldn't take marriage lightly.

Trying to read the omissions of the gospels is definitely a gray area. Someone could equally argue that since he didn't make any exceptions, that there are none. But I think that's why we have to read Scripture within the context of our own experience of God. My experience of God tells me it's a safe bet that Jesus wasn't condoning abusive relationships, but rather the idea that marriage is no more than a piece of paper.

Jeremy said...

This is my second attempt at a reply, as the 1st was lost in stupid wifi at this hotel...

I think some typos got in the way of what you were saying. Even so, I don't think this was addressing the question I raised.

Jesus didn't put conditions on most of what he said, or was reported to have said, so that seems to be a red herring. (Love your neighbor, for example - are we going to start adding conditions and/or tags to that one?)Of course not! You clearly are aware of the problem of reading into potential omissions. Of course we should read into scripture with our experience to add nuance and depth, but it should probably not send the meaning in a completely different direction from a clear directive. Where do we draw the line?

Again, I agree with what Stephen says - and what you say about marriage being more than paper and that abusive relationships must end.

But my assertion remains, that we don't understand what is going on in this passage.