Proper 22B – Mark 10:2-16
The confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh has been completed. But here’s what I wonder. What have we confirmed?
I am not speaking of Judge Kavanaugh’s qualifications or character. This is about more than particular individuals. We have confirmed more than a new Supreme Court justice.
- We have confirmed our divorce from one another.
- We have confirmed our reliance on procedure over substance.
- We have confirmed our willingness to talk about each other and our refusal or inability to talk with each other.
- We have confirmed our focus on what can be done and our blindness to what should be done.
- We have confirmed our readiness to accomplish an agenda regardless of the costs.
Some will claim a victory in this confirmation. But let’s be clear, there are no winners in what has happened. As in every divorce there are only victims: Judge Kavanaugh and his family, Dr. Ford and her family, America, the human heart.
Others will claim that they lost the confirmation hearing. That should be the least of our concerns. Look at what we’ve really lost and what we continue to lose: hope, trust, integrity, equality, authenticity, love for each other.
This process has been a test, the same kind of test the Pharisees set before Jesus in today’s gospel (Mark 10:2-16). “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Is it lawful for Republicans and Democrats to divorce each other? Is it lawful for me to say of another, “I have no need of or concern for you?” The questions may be different but the test is the same.
Today’s gospel isn’t really even about divorce. From the start Mark says this is a test. It is not a pastoral question about divorce. The Pharisees are not inquiring about a woman in an abusive or dangerous situation. They aren’t asking about a young couple who through illusion, immaturity, or naiveté made a mistake in choosing to marry. They are not dealing with a marriage that has become spiritually dead, not only devoid of life but destructive of life. They are not focusing on the spiritual or emotional well being of the couple.
They want to know Jesus’ view on the state of the law. Is it lawful? Can this be done? Jesus is clear, however, that this isn’t about the state of the law but the state of their hearts. The Pharisees tell Jesus that Moses allowed for a certificate of dismissal, a divorce. And that, Jesus says, was “because of the hardness of your heart.”
Just as he did last week and the week before Jesus is deepening and moving the conversation inward. The issue in today’s gospel is not divorce, it is hard heartedness. And if the Kavanaugh hearings have confirmed anything, it is our hard heartedness.
Hard heartedness lives in an economy of right and wrong, and its currency is self-justification, defensiveness, privilege, blame, name calling, and finger pointing. We read and see that every day.
Bipartisanship is not the answer to what is happening in our country. That’s just another transaction. “You get this and I get that. You can do this and I can do that.” We might balance the books but hearts are not changed, a new day does not dawn, a new life is not lived.
Let’s not settle for a reconciliation of what has happened; either within ourselves or between each other. Reconciliation is nothing more than the final decree of divorce, the terms under which we agree to continue living unchanged, hard heartedly. It still leaves us divided and the two still have not “become one flesh.”
We need the dawn of a new day, a new way, a new life. We need the possibility of the impossible. We need forgiveness. Reconciliation is a negotiation and settlement of the past. Forgiveness, however, releases us from the past. Forgiveness repairs the past not by undoing it, but by letting us step into a new day, a new way, a new life.
I am not talking about a forgiveness that says, “I will forgive only when you have confessed, feel bad about what you have done, made restitution, and resolved to never do this again.” That’s just another transaction, another balancing of the books, another reconciliation. I am talking about forgiveness as unconditional, as pure gift, as an act of love. We write off the debt. We wipe away the offense. We release the other to go in peace.
This kind of forgiveness is sheer madness. It means forgiving even when the offender has not confessed, or continues to sin, or is not deserving of forgiveness. What if we did not view change or repentance as the prerequisite for forgiveness, but understood forgiveness to be a gift of love that offers another the freedom to change and repent (or to not)? This kind of love, this kind of forgiveness, will always overcome the economy of right and wrong. It sounds crazy to even consider this. It make no sense and it’s not the usual way of thinking about forgiveness. It’s not the usual way most of us offer forgiveness. But it is Jesus’ way of forgiveness.
Unconditional forgiveness received let’s me become like a child. Unconditional forgiveness given lets another become like a child. This child, like the children that Jesus takes into his arms in today’s gospel, is representative of a new beginning, a new life, a new possibility. “It is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”
God help us if we look at what has happened and see only the confirmation of a new Supreme Court justice. God help us if we look at what has happened and do not see a confirmation of our heart’s need and our nation’s need for forgiveness. God help us in this work because it is, at least for me, a struggle every day. I don’t know where to begin or how to do this. I only know that I must and that we must. That much we have confirmed.