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Proper 22 | Ordinary Time 27, Cycle B

The unifying factor within the first three of these selections is obviously “the family,” more specifically “the ideal family” or “the family as it should be.”

Genesis 2:18-24

This text, the second half of the “Jahwistic” folk tradition “creation” account that we have in Genesis 2:4b-25, is evidence for the belief among the ancient Israelites that the Lord God instituted marriage, arranged the first marriage, provided the participants in the first marriage, and brought them together into a single monogamous unit.

Mark 10:2-16

In this text, we have the teaching of the Markan community regarding family life as it should be, the Markan community ideal! Possibly this was also the teaching of the Jesus of history regarding family life, regarding divorce, regarding remarriage, and regarding the place of children within a family. Let us look more closely at this text.

The framework for this teaching of the Markan community regarding marriage, divorce, remarriage and the place of children is a controversy dialogue between the Markan Jesus and the Markan Pharisees who have come to the Markan Jesus “in order to try to cause him to fall.” The Markan Pharisees are the typical opponents of the Markan Jesus here, and their motives are labeled as sinister by the Markan writer and community. As Eduard Schweizer in The Good News According to Mark, trans. by D. H. Madvig (Atlanta: John Knox, 1970) 202, observed, real life Pharisees would hardly have asked such a radical question as “Is it in accordance with the Torah for a man to divorce his wife?” since for the Pharisees divorce was regulated by Deuteronomy 24:1-4, legislation designed to protect the wife and to guarantee for her a measure of freedom. At the most, real life Pharisees might have asked the Jesus of history what, in his opinion, should be the attitude of 1st century Jews in Galilee and Judea in view of the expectation of Jesus and of many other Jews in that area at that time that God’s rule would soon be experienced in a new, more direct manner. The radical question is included in Mark 10:2, probably because the Markan community, in establishing its own identity, was impelled to raise questions such as this. It needed to provide authoritative answers within this “Gospel,” its evolving compilation of Jesus’ teachings as guidelines for the people of the Markan community. Since, as the Markan community self-consciously was establishing its own identity, it was doing this for the most part over against its Jewish antecedents, it is not surprising that it tended to be comparatively strict, similar to the Qumran community in this respect. The Markan writer obviously rejected the Jewish Torah legislation of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 in favor of the “two as one flesh” ideal descriptions in the Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 creation accounts. Probably perceiving the Genesis 1 and 2 accounts to have priority over Deuteronomy 24:1-4 both in time (as earlier than Moses) and in scope (for all people, not merely for the Israelites), the Markan writer chose to base the teachings of the Markan community upon Genesis 1-2 and accused the Markan Pharisees of hardness of hearts (Mark 10:5) stating that because of such hardness of hearts Moses provided some possibility of a certificate of divorce.

In our translation and use of Mark 10:2-16, it is important that we recognize and emphasize that in the theological opinion of the leadership of the Markan community divorce was not permitted. They, or at least the writer of the Gospel According to Mark, used the technique of controversy dialogue to clarify their own position and to show that it had priority over the position of the Pharisees on that subject. Since the controversy dialogue itself has relatively little value for us today, the controversy dialogue should be treated as secondary in our own proclamation and teaching, just as it was secondary in their situation. Our primary interest is in the position of the Markan community — which became sacred Scripture for us — as we reflect upon the issues of marriage, family life, divorce and remarriage as possibilities under certain circumstances, and the place of children today. Accordingly, it would be advisable for us to translate the word Pharisaioi in Mark 10:2 as “some religious leaders,” which is, of course, what Pharisees were at that time, and to express the text of Mark 10:5b in English as “He wrote this commandment to our ancestors and for you because of human intransigence.” Just as the new Markan community of followers of Jesus found it to be necessary to define the concept of “family” and related matters for itself, so also followers of Jesus in each new period of time since then find it to be necessary to define these concepts for themselves in relation to their own traditions.

The narrow issue here (divorce) is negative — much too negative to be the focal point in our message next Sunday. The bigger, broader, and better issue is “family,” and for that Genesis 2:18-24, Mark 10:2-16, and to a lesser extent, Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12, are all helpful.

In our homiletical application, the ideal family situation should be lifted up as the model for which to strive constantly and conscientiously, with the full realization and recognition that we must also be non-judgmental and compassionate regarding less-than-ideal situations and that every “real” situation is to some extent less-than-ideal.

Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

These portions of the Epistle to the Hebrews, which is the longest sustained argument within the Newer Testament, depict the person and work of Jesus the Christ as perceived by the inspired writer who composed it. The portions of this document that have been selected for our use next Sunday may have been chosen because of the emphasis on family relationships in Hebrews 2:11b-12 and 2:13b-14. These portions of the document have a rather tenuous connection to the Genesis 2:18-24 and Mark 10:2-16 readings appointed for this occasion.

Psalm 8

Perhaps the reference in Psalm 8:2 to the mouths of babies and infants praising God and extolling the greatness of God with sounds that we as adults cannot understand is the reason that this beautiful psalm was selected for use on this occasion. God, who is said to have established the moon and the stars with God’s own fingers, has given to us responsibility to manage and to protect life on the earth. How majestic, how awesome, therefore, is the name of the Lord!

Job 1:1; 2:1-10

Job is presented in this literary drama as the ideal man, with supposedly the ideal wife and family, perhaps with the ideal friends. He and his faith in God will be stretched, however, to the limit when first his wife an later his friends test his patience. Perhaps the message is that within this life there is no place in which the ideal man and the ideal family can be seen. Nevertheless, we are to live and to keep our relationship of faith in God, regardless of what may happen to us.

Psalm 26

This psalm could be considered to be an expression of the thought of Job as he suffered physically and mentally and yet maintained his integrity and his faith in God. Are there men and women in the congregations in which we serve whose situations are similar in many ways to the situations of Job and of this psalmist as both are presented here?

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen