When Our Hard Hearts Meet God
Not too long ago, the news carried a report of two Brooklyn rabbis who were arrested on charges of kidnapping and torture several ultra-Orthodox men. They were hired by the wives of these men, in order to force them to offer a get, which is a Jewish certificate of divorce. It is granted by the man to the woman, and is necessary for her to be able to move on from a broken marriage and into a new life. The rabbis are accused of kidnapping the men, holding them against their will and torturing them with cattle prods in order to force them to sign the get.
Placing that news item in context with today's reading from the Gospel in which Jesus is again challenged by the Pharisees to answer questions about divorce, and you can understand just how prevalent and constant these issues are, and have been, for people of faith (or otherwise) throughout the ages. In the face of the debate, Jesus tosses out this tidbit: that the reason Moses allowed divorce in any form was "because your hearts are unyielding." I don't think that this means divorce is forbidden. I have seen too many relationships that have been shattered and broken to the point that the only opportunity for healing and reconciliation means a fresh start for both parties, away from each other. What I believe Jesus is saying is that God didn't make us for divorce...God made us for relationship, wholeness and holiness of life. When we fall short, when we stumble, when we resist or abuse that part of ourselves something needs to be done to get us past being stuck (or keeping other people stuck) in brokenness.
It's a hard path to walk...to expose ourselves to the possibility of being challenged, hurt and shattered by broken relationships. Worse still to be asked to answer a continual call by God to get up, go and be with people. Jonah ran from the challenge and wound up in the belly of the fish. The disciples hear the teachings on divorce and wonder why people would get married in the first place. The community is shocked that Jesus would say that disruptive, little kids should be welcomed to the center of the assembly for blessings and acceptance. The young, righteous man is dismayed to hear that despite his piety and ardent adherence to the Law, he is still lacking one thing: to release his attachments to the materialism of the world, engage the poor and leave it all to follow Jesus.
Jonah, thrown into the sea to preserve the people he put at risk when he fled God's will, is beginning his journey to understanding this call to humble release of attachment. The disciples are finally "getting" the truth that salvation is not attainable by will or action on our part...but that by God's will all things are possible. We are being reminded that the more we attempt to place conditions on a life of faith, the less that life of faith looks like what God intended in the first place.
I am not sure which element of the story noted in the first paragraph is sadder or more lamentable: that relationships break apart, that people with power to offer hope refuse it or that the only presumed resort for folks held in suspension by an unjust (but lawful) system is to choose kidnapping and torture in order to reach a desired outcome.
And yet, are we surprised that human beings wind up in these places? When we attempt to turn from loving God with all our being, and loving our neighbors as ourselves, can we really be surprised that some time in the belly of a fish is not so far off for any of us? Or that when two rabbis make bad choices our reaction shouldn't be shock...instead it should be an expression of sorrow and an offering of prayers for repentance and restoration for all of us...because we are all involved when that sort of brokenness abounds.