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Friday, September 10, 2010

Day Ten (Marriage)

It is not hard to find a discussion about what the Bible says about men having sex with other men. But what does the Bible say about marriage? Today's readings from Proverbs and Matthew both touched on it. Under the heading "Warning against Adultery" we are provided with the following wisdom:
Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers.

May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer—may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love. Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man's wife? For a man's ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths. The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly.
Prov. 5:15-23. I think that is mostly about having a good marriage, but it does warn against adultery. In the Gospel, the whole discussion is in the context of divorce.
Some Pharisees came to [Jesus] to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?"
"Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, '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."
"Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?"
Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."
The disciples said to him, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry."
Jesus replied, "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it."
Matt. 19:1-12.

I think we have a fairly consistent idea of the ideal Hebrew marriage[FN1]. You are blessed if you stay with the wife of your youth. It is a blessing if her breasts continue to do it for you and you neither share her with others, nor have sex with the wive's of others. Coming at it from the negative, you should not divorce you wife, unless she cheats on you. This is, according to Matthew's author according to Jesus, the way God intended it.

This discusion of the ideal, is an interesting contrast to the reality I've been reading in Genesis. Although the Patriarchs were God's chosen people, they did not live up to this ideal, at all. They had multiple wives, they traded in their old wives for new ones when they didn't think they would have kids. They sent wives away. They visited prostitutes.

I don't think this is a contradiction, however. I think there is a point here that there can be an ideal, but if someone doesn't fit into the ideal, that doesn't mean they aren't capable of having a relationship with God. Which is good, because none of us are capable of the ideal. And, I suppose this is a good place to recognize that the real ideal, is to "rencounce marriage because of the kingdom of heaven," but not everyone can do that.

For more on this topic, please read Rita Nakashima Brock's amazing piece for the Huffington Post here. Dr. Brock was the keynote speaker at Chalice Christian Justice Ministries' Called to Equality Symposium last year. She opened my eyes to the ambiguity within the Scripture regarding marriage. This piece for the Huffington Post explores it wonderfully.


[FN1] I do not necessarily share the Hebrews' view on what is ideal. I don't think a marriage between people of the same sex or a marriage of someone to someone other than the wife of his youth is less than ideal. But, I think it is hard to argue that the authors of Proverbs and Matthew feel this way.

Note: Reading three days at a time is really too fast to keep up with interesting topics. I'm skipping the Twenty-Third Psalm and the Ten Plagues (River of Blood, frogs, gnats, flies, animal plague, boils, fatal hail, locusts, darkness, death of the first born) which were also in today's reading.

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