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A Ruthless reading in the RCL

A Ruthless reading in the RCL October 1, 2021

The Revised Common Lectionary — used by thousands of churches — includes an unfortunate Gospel reading for this Sunday. Mark 10:2-16 combines two pericopes, I suppose because that gives preachers the option of leaning on the second one — the nice little vignette in which Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me.”

But that first bit, from verses 2-12, is still set to be read in Sunday’s service, and reading Jesus’ harsh condemnation of divorce and remarriage there — without any context or explanation — seems cruel.

I think it’s particularly unfortunate to choose this passage from Mark’s Gospel rather than the parallel sections from Matthew or Luke, because both of those Gospels include something Mark doesn’t: the genealogies of Jesus.

Think of the abandonment and suffering of Hagar and Ishmael. Now multiply that cruelty by 10,000. That’s Ezra.

Those matter a great deal here because those genealogies — the lists of begats that we’re always tempted to skip — include the remarried Moabite widow Ruth. And we cannot understand Jesus’ words in Mark 2:2-12 unless we remember Ruth and the way her story echoes throughout the scriptures as a refutation of that viciously sanctimonious ethnic-cleansing prick Ezra.

So if you’re going to be reading or preaching on that passage from Mark this Sunday, you’d better not do so unless it’s in the context of Ezra. This is what the Pharisees were asking Jesus: Where do you stand on this long-running argument over Ezra’s mandatory mass-divorce and child-abandonment? And this is what Jesus is answering: Never again.

Some have suggested that I’m stretching when I connect almost every biblical discussion of divorce to the contentious dispute over Ezra’s atrocity. I think it’s a far bigger stretch to suggest they’re not connected. That suggestion is, literally, Ruthless.

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