Job 1:1, 2:1-10 and Psalm 26 • Genesis 2:18-24 and Psalm 8 • Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12 • Mark 10:2-16
Family relationships are front and center in both the Genesis and the Mark readings this week. How these texts apply and don't apply to our time and place, while interesting, are only a side dish to the insights served up here. In the readings, a feast is spread out before us.
Mark comes in three pieces: what Jesus says to the lawyers, what he says to the disciples, and what he does with the children. First, Jesus lands a punch at the Pharisees and all of us: the biblical laws about divorce reflect not God's will so much as your (our) hardness of heart (v. 5). Well, that's fair, and not only around divorce, right? Many rules exist to corral humans at our not-so-great moments. One can even sympathize with the problem the Pharisees have in trying to trap Jesus, who could see so much.
What Jesus does next is equally amazing, bringing both creation stories into the picture. From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female (v. 6), is a nod to the first story, and also perhaps a nod to the equal footing of gender in it. That piece aside, the first chapter of Genesis provides an even bigger view. A look back at Genesis 1:22 is a reminder that not only had God made them male and female, but also that God made them in God's own likeness. All the gathered crowd listening to this exchange would have known that. Jesus was throwing down a clarion call to grow ourselves up.
Marriage – or any kind of partnering or living together – is a chance to grow oneself up. What often gets confusing (!) is that it is not a chance to grow one's partner up! Much of life can be spent focusing on and correcting or reacting to one's partner. The intensity can be enormous. The only person one can change, though, is oneself. To tackle one's own hardness of heart, one must see one's own contributions to every problem and decide what one is going to do differently in each relationship.
Easier said than done. As if to acknowledge the difficulty, Jesus next talks about the second creation story: leaving one's parents, finding a mate, and becoming one flesh (Mark 10:7-8; Genesis 2:24). The Bible's description of human couples merging into one flesh describes a process ongoing not only in families, but also in the herds, flocks, and swarms of many species where survival depends on individuals operating together as one unit. In human families, ways of managing individuality and togetherness are transmitted from generation to generation.
Noticing the togetherness pressure is a first step towards being more of a grown-up individual in it. Togetherness will always exist, with deep roots back in one's own family, where it might be better understood. While establishing adult-adult connections with older family members may not seem the obvious solution to problems in one's current relationship, the reluctance to try is the 'tell' of its importance.
In his recent book, Born a Crime, Trevor Noah described his mother telling him as a young adult that he needed to find his father. When he asked why in the world he would need to do that, she said, "Because he's a piece of you, and if you don't find him you won't find yourself" (p. 101). The good news for couples: as a person becomes more herself, being 'one flesh' with one's partner becomes less intense, blameful, and frustrating while also more resourceful, playful, and calmer. Becoming responsible for oneself and to others begins at home.
Today's Mark passage ends with responsibility to the next generation: to the children. Jesus is unequivocal on this point. Each generation of a family has a responsibility to the next generation. Neither an over-focus or an under-focus on the kids does them any good; instead, working on becoming one's own most mature and least reactive self gives them room to grow up too.
Morning: How might I develop more adult-adult connections with older family members?
Evening: When did I notice togetherness pressures today? How was I clear about my own position?
Psalm 8:3-4 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?