Summary: Ordinary Proper 22: Our individualistic orientation as a culture has brought many ills upon us. Among those is the deterioration of the family. This message looks at Jesus’ teaching on the intention of God for men and women and children.
Leonard Sweet, professor of theology at Drew University was the keynote speaker at a theological convocation that I attended last fall. Part of Dr. Sweet’s message focused on the rampant individualism that has become so much a part of our culture. Here is a paraphrase of part of what he said: “Here it is all about ’me - me - I - I’. You almost never hear about ’we’ and when you do, even that is spelled with two ‘i’s’ in it (Wii).”
How true! Even the ultimate team organization – the U. S. Army – relented, and a number of years ago they adopted the recruiting slogan: “An Army of One”. Whether it is Wii with the two i’s or the tendency to say, “I do my own thing” – there’s no question that Individualism is a powerful and pervasive value in our culture.
But it is important to note that there is a price to pay for being self-obsessed. As we lose the concept of ‘we’, the concept of family also goes by the wayside as does community. ’We and us’ begins to take a back seat to individualism. Well, what is the ultimate cost for losing community and moving hell-bent toward individualism and self obsession?
Does it look like 16-year-old Derrion Albert walking home from school in Chicago – a fine young man, an honor student – mercilessly beaten to death when he inadvertently finds himself between two rival gangs? Does it look like ritual beatings filmed on cell phones in order to be placed on YouTube to see who can cop the most views? Does it look like a husband or a wife thinking or maybe even saying, "What about me and my feelings" - rather than, "What about my family" - as they make a choice to have an adulterous affair? What is the cost of this ‘me – me – I – I’ cultural orientation?
Rev. Dr. Dale Meyer – President of Concordia Seminary - writes that the most dangerous spiritual battles that we face are the ones we don’t easily recognize in the “sinner” part of our “saint-sinner” life. It is those things that we do, those attitudes that we have, those words that we speak that we don’t even know are sinful. Did you get that? The most dangerous spiritual battles that we face are the ones whose significance we don’t’ even grasp. Or to put it another way, the most dangerous spiritual battles we face are the ones we don’t even know we are in!
As Christians, it is all too easy to have blind spots to those things that we do that we don’t even think are sinful or evil. In a culture that exalts ‘me’ over ‘we’ – individualism over community – isn’t it so very easy to miss the sinfulness of those attitudes and behaviors that exalt self and undermine the fabric of our life together in community?
In a very real way, that is what Jesus was getting at when He responded to the absurd question that the Pharisees asked Him one day. Let’s read about it:
Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” “What did Moses command you?” he replied. They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” ‘It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10.2-12)
The intention was to trap Jesus. The intention was to get Him to speak against that which had been reduced to a commonly accepted practice in order to accuse Jesus of not honoring Moses. The commonly accepted practice was that if a wife displeased her husband for any reason, he could simply write a certificate of divorce and send her away. The Pharisees knew this. Jesus knew this. But this had become one of those practices that characterized those unrecognized spiritual battles we talked about earlier. The sinfulness and self-centeredness of a heart that could look at another human being, and simply at a personal whim get rid of a person – was not what God intended. Jesus told them so!
It is because of your hard hearts that Moses permitted this. It is because you are so ‘me – me – I – I’ centered that you are permitted to walk away from a relationship that God meant to be the joining of heart and body into a oneness that should not be separated by anyone! God made man. God made woman. And when He joined them to be one – He intended for that ‘we’ arrangement to take precedence over the ‘me – me – I – I’ preference. God wanted to bless us in the husband-wife relationship. By giving man and woman to each other, God wanted for us to find our joy and fulfillment in relationship. This was a beautiful expression of God’s love to us.