We are nearing the end of the church year. So we come to the last teachings of Jesus before he entered Jerusalem for his final confrontation with the powers of this world. Mark chapter 10 holds some of these last teachings. And they are all about power. We will spend the next few weeks looking at what Jesus is saying to the people of his time, and what that means for us today.
Sex, money and political power, the topics of Mark 10, are perhaps “the big three” of the great ethical themes which have consumed human society throughout all time. In just a few verses, Jesus gives us direction about all three! What a teacher he was!
One of the best-known works of Fyodor Dostoevsky is his novel called, The Idiot. In this novel, the Christ-figure hero is Prince Myshkin. He enters the story from outside, on his return trip from a four-year stay at a clinic in Switzerland to treat his epilepsy. He is immediately thrust into a culture obsessed with wealth, power and sexual conquest. But the prince himself has no pride, no greed, no malice, no envy, no vanity and no fear. In fact, his behavior is so abnormal that people do not know what to think of him. They trust him because of his innocence and simplicity, yet his lack of ulterior motives causes them to conclude that he is an idiot. Of him, the narrator notes, “He did not care for pomp or wealth, nor even for public esteem, but cared only for the truth!”  In a letter, Dostoevsky himself said of the prince, “My intention is to portray a truly beautiful soul.” 
Who is really the idiot?, is the question of the novel. Prince Myshkin, like Jesus, lived a life which society could not understand, but which held the way to wisdom and a truly good life. Lives driven by greed, power and sexual conquest, while they may seem to be the norm when we look at our world, are doomed to destruction. There is another way. Jesus taught it. The Christian mystics, especially the monastic movements, taught it; many of the reform movements within Christianity over the millennia have taught it. Yet, each new generation must find its way for itself.
In Mark 10, the Pharisees represent the debate of Jesus’ day about relational power. They were not able to latch on to the simple truth of love, but instead fell into creating detailed laws – and laws to protect laws – layer after layer, attempting to cover every possible situation. And the rules ended up hiding the simple way at the core of biblical teaching.
It reminds me of the poem of Shel Silverstein,
Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,
Listen to the DON’TS
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
The IMPOSSIBLES, the WONT’S
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me-
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be. 
Since Moses is named as giving the law allowing divorce, let’s imagine how that came to happen. Every day in the wilderness, the people crowded around Moses asking him to settle their disputes. I am sure many of those were family quarrels. Men who came complaining of their wives, fathers who came complaining that their daughters’ husbands had sent them away unjustly. Moses knew about troubles with wives. When he took his own wife to Egypt with him on his mission to Pharaoh, Zipporah called him her “bridegroom of blood” (Ex 4:25). There was some tension between them! Sometime after that, Moses apparently sent her back to her father. Did Moses divorce his wife? Maybe that is what this sending away was. Did Zipporah divorce him? We don’t really know what happened. But the next thing we know, Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, shows up in the wilderness delivering Moses’ wife back to him. Was Jethro one of those who came to Moses for wisdom to settle a family marriage dispute? Was Moses’ own difficult marriage the occasion for his legislation for divorce? The text gives us more questions than answers on this point.
But at some point the Law did include the instructions for how to divorce decently and in order. But that didn’t settle anything. There was one school of rabbis, led by Rabbi Hillel, who held that a man could divorce his wife for any reason. It could be a simple as overcooking dinner, or it could be that another woman had caught his eye. Any reason was good enough for a man to divorce his wife. Another group, led by Rabbi Shammai, held that a wife’s adultery was the only legal grounds for divorce. And regardless, only men had the right to divorce. Women had no say in the matter. Both sides of the debate assumed this male privilege.
But Jesus, as usual, refused to be drawn into taking sides in the debate. Instead, he drew their attention back before the laws of Moses were written, to the very intention of God in creation. In the beginning male and female were created to be the perfect pairing. They were made in the image of God, intended to reflect the beauty in God’s character of different forms and expressions swirling together in one loving whole. This dynamic interface is what it means to be made in the image of God. In other words, men alone do not reflect the image of God; women alone do not reflect the image of God. Rather, in the oneness created between these two, the image of God is seen. So, male and female are created to be one. We need each other. No male privilege here. Jesus’ message call for mutuality between men and women was really radical!
Richard Foster observes, “God spoke all of creation into existence except for human beings.” That statement brought me up short. What? I have always thought of all creation being brought into existence by the divine word. But in the case of human beings, God gets dirty. God gets down in the dust and mud to form human beings – first Adam and then Eve. And it doesn’t end there. Once God is happy with the form, God breathes into the creature to bring it to life. Human beings are the result of the divine mixing of planet earth and divine breath. So humans are “good,” a perfect blend of earth and Spirit.
And human beings are not intended to live their lives on their own. They are intended to connect with another human, to become one with another, continuing to live out the mystery which is God in their interactions of making a life.
But we don’t. And here is where Jesus’ message hits home. We don’t live as one. Instead, we compete with each other, we demand from each other, we blame each other, to the point where our marriages, our onenesses, become like walking through the valley of the shadow of death. All relationships go through sorrow and pain. But sometimes the sorrow overwhelms us and the pain is too much to handle. What do humans do then? It is for times like these that Moses wrote the laws for divorce. Sometimes, a relationship is just too broken to fix. And even then, God is also about liberation and healing. Because we are broken people, Moses gave the laws for divorce. And Jesus did not condemn that. There is grace in the law!
So far, so good. But Jesus turns to accuse his questioners. He says that Moses gave permission for divorce because of their hardness of heart! Hardness of heart is the opposite of love, which comes from a soft heart, a heart that is pliable and can be touched and molded by another’s pain. They were not letting love into the middle of the relationships. And when that happens, relationships no longer reflect the image of God. People become twisted into possessions in our hands, which we can use to our own ends.
Still true! Sexual and relational power is still one of the most abused powers on earth! The pornography industry is on a frightening increase. 24% of smart phone users admit to having pornographic content on their phones; 1 in 5 mobile searches is for pornography; 64% of Christian men and 15% of Christian women say they watch porn at least once a month. Human trafficking is the 3rd largest international crime activity after drugs and guns. There are 20-30 million slaves in the world today. Every minute and a half another American is sexually assaulted. On average nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States.
Is there any question that relationships mirroring the image of God are in short supply? At least they are not in the news! Here is what I am thinking. It would be easy for us, when we read a passage like Mark 10, to get caught up in discussing the laws and practices for Christian marriage. But if we let that happen, we are falling into exactly the same trap as the Pharisees, who argued about the law and did little to relieve the vast human suffering of their time. I wonder if people looking back at us a generation or two from now will say the same things about us – that we missed the point which Jesus made so clear. The intention of God from the beginning of creation is that human beings in all their interactions would reflect the image of God, who is love.
It is time to challenge ourselves in the Christian community to live into our calling. The ancient monastic communities took vows, much like marriage vows, to shape relationships. Their relational vow was to chastity. It is easy to get legalistic about the vow of chastity. We do it when we look at what chastity vows not to do. But that is not how the monastics saw it. The vow of chastity was taken in order to learn “vacancy.” It was a commitment to holy empty space in a world overcrowded with interpersonal relationships. It was a vow to make the primary space-holder in our lives the living God.
What would be a comparable vow for us today? Fidelity? Faithfulness? These would do well to describe marriage relationships. But this vow of chastity is broader and invites us into healthy relationships with all human beings. The word I am coming up with is “respect.” What if we took a vow to respect all people? It would not allow us to objectify anyone, nor to oppress, own or abuse. Does it hold enough of the character of delight, invitation and communion? I am not sure, but it is a beginning. Someone in the coffeehouse service suggested “revere, reverence.”
In the west, we have the greeting custom of the handshake. It is often thought to have begun as a sign of peace, showing that one’s hand did not hold a weapon. In the East, they have other traditions. In the Orient, the bow; in India and south Asia, it is called “Namaste.” These are also peaceful, submissive postures. I am drawn to Namaste, in its translation, “I bow to the divine in you.” It is one of the most powerfully respectful greetings I know. It is more than “I don’t have a weapon;” it sees, honors, and respects the other as the image of God.
A vow to live in a relationship of respect or reverence with all living things because they and we are the image of God – well, that might just change the world! May it be so!
 Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot, trans. Constance Garnett (New York: Bantam Books, 1981), p. 569.
 Letter to Apollon Maikov, January 12, 1868, quoted in Konstantin Mochulsky, Dostoevsky: His Life and Work, trans. Michael A. Minihan (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967), p. 344.
 Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends, (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), p. 27.
 Richard Foster, Money Sex and Power: the Challenge of the Disciplined Life, (New York: Harper & Row, 1985), p. 92