Rib (A Seriously Theological Sermon)
October 7, 2018 Pastor: Rev. Peter Mills
Verse: Mark 10:2–10:16
PROPER 22/B (2018): Gen. 2:18-25; Heb. 2:1-18; Mark 10:2-16.
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”… But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and not ashamed (vv. 18, 20b-25).
When a man is attracted to a woman with the intention of marital union, he pitches woo telling her she “is the desire of his heart”; such declaration accords with woman’s creation.
From Adam the woman was built-up from the bone and flesh of the man; bone that encased the fabric of his heart. No doubt heart-flesh was taken from Adam with the encasing bone as material of woman.
The man by his nature is thus predisposed to love the woman because she is gifted to him in his pain, loss, and unique restoration of what was taken; the same flesh and bone, yet now different. God made and returned a better part of the man to satisfy his heart’s desire; a woman with whom the man would seek fleshly union and spiritual communion.
By God’s reuniting complementary sex, the man and woman were made one flesh in both act and progeny with a common DNA. By union the man was no longer an automaton; and the two, as one, would comply without shame with God’s directive for life on earth, “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28).
Man and woman in the first creation gives us pause to reflect on the Trinity when “from the beginning” (Mk. 10:6), “God created man in hiown image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27); and summarized, “it is not good that the man should be alone” (2:1).
Male and female union reflects the communal life of love within the Godhead, “in arche”, in the Beginning place and its outward compulsion for creation. The first marital union enacted God’s will for love’s service in the creation. The union of the man and woman was part and parcel of God’s gracious creative act.
We sometimes refer to the first pairing as the first wedding, and so it was; and yet it was different from all other marriages after the Fall. It was not as though God presented the woman to the man for their discretionary approval of the other. God joined the flesh of each to the other in the imperative to make the sixth day’s “good” creation complete; or as Jesus would later say of his pain and loss on the cross for the new creation, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30).
With the Fall, sin and shame entered the marital relation, a wedge of separation within the creation; what God had joined, man’s self-will would physically and or spiritually separate (cf. Mk. 10:9). Man thus reordered the fundamentals of marriage; no longer grounded in the imperatives of God’s good creation, rather in mutual consent.
Despite God’s intention for marital permanence, the man and woman each perceived breach of promise by the other as cause to opt-out of the bargained for exchange. The parties to the contract were now as apt to cherish and love the other as to turn a hard-heart toward the one with whom they consider being unequally “yoked” as circumstances dictate.
Marriage by mutual consent also characterized God’s relation with ancient Israel. At Sinai God from the midst of smoke, fire and earthquake promised to be Israel’s Protector, Provider, and God. They in turn would “love, honor, and obey the Lord” (Ex. 19). The marriage was consecrated by water washing and sprinkling onto both Altar and people sacrificial-blood, portending a future more perfect union.
The OT was dependent on the promised fidelity of both God and Israel; that Moses permitted a man to issue his wife a bill of divorce reflected Israel’s ungrateful character and hardness of heart toward their great and graciousness salvation from God. As St. Paul in the 5thchapter of Ephesians points out the human marital relation always speaks to the greater reality of God and church (vv. 31, 32).
Israel proved an adulterous bride; at last YHWH issued a bill of separation exiling Israel from the Land returning them to captivity in Assyria and Babylonia, and withdrawing his Shekinah, his tabernacle/temple presence from their midst.
In the fullness of time God softened his heart toward faithless Israel and all mankind of whom he desired their return. In Christ God extends to men a new and better Covenant than the old for reunion. Jesus, Son of God incarnate, possessing humanity’s flesh, is the church’s new suitor seeking a bride with whom to join in God’s new creation coming into being; to be one flesh and bone with the woman, reminiscent of the original marriage covenant of grace for God’s love in creation.
When Abram sought assurances from God about his great promises, God, as with Adam, put him into a “deep sleep” (Gen. 15:12). In that state God then made a covenant by his own Name (22:16) anticipating the unilateral Covenant with Man for Christ’s sake.
This then is the milieu in which the Pharisees come testing Jesus today. Our NT relation with God is not predicated, as in the OT, on our promises of faithfulness; instead our saving relation is solely in the gift of faith of Christ’s fidelity toward God and his sacrificial love of us as his heart’s desire.
Jesus was at pains that his disciples should understand the necessity in the new era of the Loaves of his feeding and his coming Passion to orient us in Kingdom greatness; that it is the one who humbles to serve and receives all without merit who is great. In this service, as between humble husband and submissive wife, we have congregation peace and unity with God in Christ.
Jesus’ fidelity to God and man, on the cross is at one and the same time our assurance of his love for us in pain and loss, his separated flesh and blood, and God’s abandonment of him for taking a sinfully pocked bride. At the cross our sin became Jesus’. On the cross Jesus trusted in God to reunite the stuff of his sifted flesh and blood in death’s “deep sleep”, a three-day grave. So wedded to us at the cross, Jesus’ faith in God is our faith through Baptism. Faith alone is the new grounding of all NT era marriages in Christ.
Once again Jesus and the Pharisees are talking past each other. The Pharisee’s would require Jesus to reconcile Sinai’s covenant that took into account divorce with the coming Covenant of the new age. But Jesus did not come into the world to reconcile God’s OT Law with his new Covenant of grace through faith in his Feeding and Passion.
Jesus does not engage the Pharisee’s assumptions about divorce; he is fully aware that in a fallen world divorce happens even among his disciples, but it is not so in his Kingdom apart from forgiveness extended and received in word and Eucharist as we await the consummation of this age.
Even the church’s marriage ritual of in this present age is grounded on the exchange of mutual vows; these of course are regularly honored in the breach. But the reality of Jesus’ divorce pronouncements concerns the new era, the new aeon, the new epoch of the Church in a more profound way in which we liturgically participate with the Church Triumphant in these last days.
Jesus’ NT betrothal to his church assures our certainty of God’s Abrahamic saving covenant, our faith accounting us righteousness to receive God’s expansive salvation promises in love from the cross and the Father’s assent by the Resurrection.
Human divorce reflects the impossibility of sinful men and women being true to their marital vows outside of Christ’s restoring forgiveness and the union of the marriage bed. Divorce is not the “unforgivable sin”; rather unbelief is infidelity and so the one ground of divorce.
This then is God’s NT pronouncement on divorce: no matter how great your sins he will never again separate from you except for the one cause of unbelieving infidelity born of heartless neglect of “so great a salvation” (Heb. 2:3) extended in the church’s forgiving word and sacraments
The law exposes our nakedness and shame in the world; this is necessary for true repentance. But the gospel in Christ, grasped in faith trumps and covers us with the robe of his righteousness which we wear with joy and revelation on the last day in the bosom of Abraham at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. Amen.