Homily for Sunday, October 7, 2018
Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost
I know that in this morning’s gospel lesson Jesus talks about divorce. I know that Jesus—quoting from this morning’s lesson from Genesis—says, “‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’… What God has joined together, let no one separate.” And I know, given our experience of marriage and divorce, be it our own experience or that of someone close to us, this passage is challenging. And I want to get back to this passage, but first… I want to talk about neighborhoods, homes, and urban renewal.
Chromatic Homes, a book by John Gilderbloom, is about what a previous generation might have called “painted ladies,” those old Victorian homes painted in multiple, sometimes riotous, colors. The book is filled with photos of painted ladies in San Francisco; Miami; New Orleans; Cincinnati; and Louisville, Kentucky. Gilderbloom contends that, for the cost of a few cans of paint and bit of sweat equity, a painted lady will transform the neighborhood, encouraging others to care for their homes, bestowing on neighborhoods a sense of identity, nurturing community, lifting spirits, and ultimately leading to more vibrant, healthier and happier communities. I quote:
Beauty matters… Making our buildings and streets good-looking goes hand in hand with other factors that revive neighborhoods—preservation, bike lanes, community gardens, walkability, trees, clean air, and traffic calming measures… Chromatic neighborhoods increase home ownership, sustainability, likability, safety, health, and prosperity… Housing is more than shelter. Entailing growth, support, nurture, and refuge, [housing] is a symbol of who we are.
Mark’s gospel, from whom we are hearing this fall, is not only a colorful gospel—as Adam Gopnik writes (and as we heard in a recent homily), in Mark, Jesus is “no Buddha”; he is irritable, impatient and short-tempered; he has a “brash… indifference to conventional ideas of goodness,” and his teachings possess “a wild gaiety… that still leaps off the page”—Mark is not only a colorful gospel but arguably the most “neighborhood-y” of the gospels, for Mark pays close attention to where Jesus is. To scan Mark’s Gospel is to scan a trip itinerary through Jesus’ neighborhoods: “They passed along the Sea of Galilee”; “They went to Capernaum”; “Jesus went out again beside the lake”; “Again he entered the syngagogue”; “He got into the boat… and went to the district of Dalmanutha,” and so on. Mark so emphasizes the local that the reason we know where some gospel stories are set is thanks to Mark: the healing of the paralytic lowered through the roof, for example, and the disciples’ argument as to who was the greatest, were—according to Mark—set in Capernaum. The other Gospels may feature prominently what Jesus says—the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, the Sermon on the Plain and in Luke, Jesus’ discourses in John—but Mark pays close attention to where Jesus is.
Mark pays such close attention to where Jesus is, that he, perhaps more than any other evangelist, specifies when Jesus is in a house. In Mark’s Gospel, if we include the upper room at the Last Supper and also the house of the high priest at Jesus’ trial, Jesus is in a house twelve different times. Jesus heals Simon Peter’s mother in law in a house. Jesus raises Jairus’ daughter in a house. The woman anoints Jesus with costly ointment in a house. Only in Mark does Jesus confront his disciples about arguing over who is the greatest in a house. It is in Mark that the Syrophoencian woman approaches Jesus in a house. Only in Mark does Jesus gather his disciples in a post-game huddle in a house to explain his teaching.
In Mark—in a way that is different from the other gospels—the reader is aware of the neighborhood and Jesus’ movements in it. In Mark we might say that “Beauty matters,” and “Housing is more than shelter,” for Jesus brings himself, the very “color” of the kingdom, into individual neighborhoods and into individual homes, as if to renew this world one neighborhood, one house, at a time.
It is no surprise, then, that the setting for today’s gospel includes a house. Jesus is concerned about all that makes for human health and flourishing, and wants to bring color to, to renew and revitalize, all aspects of our lives, including our “house” and intimate relationships.
Keeping in mind Jesus’ mission of renewal; keeping in mind the “color” that Jesus can bring to a “neighborhood”; and keeping in mind how readily Jesus enters a home, let us return to today’s gospel.
It is no mistake that, when the Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce, Jesus quotes from Genesis; Jesus is one who renews, and he responds to their question from the context of creation and renewal. “Look,” says Jesus in effect, “marriage is intended to be creative, and a couple, by working on their relationship’s health and vitality, can help God to carry out God’s work of renewing their ‘neighborhood.’” “Marriage is not about the Law, oh you of hardened hearts,” Jesus says. “Marriage is bigger than the Law. Marriage is not about ‘right’ or ‘wrong’—marriage is a relationship. A relationship that has the power to transform a ‘house.’ And the ‘neighborhood.’ And the community beyond.”
I know that Jesus said “What God has joined together, let no one separate.” But I also know that Jesus knows that we live in a fallen world. (That our world is fallen is why Jesus came to live in our neighborhood.) I know that Jesus understands that things do not always go the way we planned and that sometimes a marriage’s unity may be marred beyond what we can repair. And I know that Jesus knows how painful it can be when the “color” fades from a relationship and we see no possibility of its being renewed.
As we consider what Jesus said in today’s gospel and the realities of our fallen world, I don’t fully know what to say; I don’t have an answer. But I do have an invitation: I invite us to consider our marriages and close relationships in the context of Mark’s Gospel and how readily Jesus is willing to enter a house. I invite us to consider how Jesus is present in our “neighborhood” and how Jesus is concerned with its “beauty,” and that our homes be places of “growth, support, nurture and refuge.” I invite us to remember—as he did in Mark—how Jesus desires to bring healing and good news to people in our house.
- If you are divorced and yet experience grief and hurt on account of it, maybe invite Jesus into your “house” and speak with him, like the disciples spoke with Jesus in the house.
- If you are currently going through divorce and desiring wholeness and healing, maybe invite Jesus into your “house” and ask him to bring healing, as he brought healing to Simon’s mother-in-law in her house.
- If you are presently married but feeling stuck and lifeless in your marriage, maybe invite Jesus into your “house” and ask for renewal. Maybe Jesus, who raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead in their house, will help you find resurrection in your house.
- If you are presently married but wondering about divorce, maybe invite Jesus into your “house” and ask for the grace of discernment, and maybe he—who helped his disciples discover in the house the meaning of his teachings—will help you discover what is best for you, in your house.
- And if you are married now and are finding joy in it—if your marriage has “color” and is renewing to you in your “neighborhood”—why not invite Jesus in and anoint him in gratitude—as did the woman at Bethany—in the house for all that he had done for her.
Jesus knows that “beauty matters.” He wants our “neighborhood” to be a place of safety, health and prosperity. He knows that “housing is more than shelter” and that it entails “growth, support, nurture and refuge.” I invite us to invite Jesus into our “house,” for—if Mark is any indication—he will enter, and there will help us discover the color, the renewal, the life, that will help us flourish.
I am going to leave us with a word of wisdom from a colleague, and also a poem. The colleague, whom I’ve known for years and who lived a long time and has seen much, says that “Everybody’s marriage is a mess!” From what I can see, he’s got a point. Our relationships bring us joy, and at the same time can be so humbling. In our marriages we experience extraordinary love, and at the same time extraordinary anger. Though in our marriages we promised to “have and to hold from this day forward,” yet our marriages continually call us to let go. Marriage is a sacrament because it is a place that opens our “house” to the workings of grace, and gives us an occasion to invite Jesus in.
And I want to leave us with a poem… a poem about marriage and a colorful house; about being cold and buried, and finding renewal and life. It speaks to Jesus’ desire for us to know beauty and to find renewal. Here is Robert Frost’s “The Investment”:
Over back where they speak of life as staying
(“You couldn’t call it living, for it ain’t”),
There was an old, old house renewed with paint,
And in it a piano loudly playing.
Out in the plowed ground in the cold a digger,
Among unearthed potatoes standing still,
Was counting winter dinners, one a hill,
With half an ear to the piano’s vigor.
All that piano and paint back there,
Was it some money suddenly come into?
Or some extravagance young love had been to?
Or old love on an impulse not to care—
Not to sink under being man and wife,
But get some color and music out of life?