The Japanese call it kitsugi. It’s a technique for mending a piece of pottery that has been broken. With this technique, the lacquer used for mending is mixed with powdered gold or silver. Once the broken pieces are lacquered together and the piece is once again fired in the kiln, the result is that the cracks and breaks are highlighted – and the object ends up more beautiful than ever.
As a philosophy, kitsugi treats brokenness and repair as part of the history of an object, instead of pretending that the brokenness – and the repair – never happened.
Today’s Gospel lesson is not an easy lesson to hear or to talk about. Most of us have had our lives or the lives of those we love touched by divorce. But I believe there is a word, I believe there is good news for us, in here. The message of Jesus Christ is one of compassion, mercy, and love. Any time we hear the words of Jesus and we don’t hear those qualities, it is wise to take a closer look.
First, we notice that this is a trick question. The Pharisees knew what the law said – they wanted to test him. “Is divorce lawful?” they asked. And the answer, which they knew, was that Moses – not God – had allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and divorce his wife.
So here’s what that tells us: that divorce is of humankind. It’s something we came up with as people. And we came up with it because we found that it was something that we needed.
Why did we have a need for it? Because, as Jesus says here, of our hardness of heart. Because we are human. Because we are “born children of a fallen humanity.” Because of something every one of us confesses, every week: “We are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.”
So this is the first word, the first good news, that we can take from these strong words of Jesus: We are every one of us less than perfect. So if divorce has been a part of your life’s journey, hear this: We all receive God’s forgiveness for our brokenness.
But now things get even stronger, because it’s hard to mistake what Jesus says next. Divorce + remarriage = adultery. What does this mean?
It means that divorce is less than the ideal that God wishes for us. This is something we already know. Jesus is inviting us to be centered on ideal relationships in our lives, relationships founded on love and mutual dependence, relationships fostered by respect and dignity, relationships pursued for the sake of the health of each person and the protection of those who are vulnerable.
This is the ideal community, Jesus is saying. Anything that is not-this, is not ideal. But here’s the thing. I do not hear these words as a condemnation of individuals who have been divorced. I hear in these words an invitation. An invitation to anyone whose most intimate relationships are not founded on love and mutual dependence and fostered by respect and dignity. An invitation to do what is necessary to ensure that your marital relationship is healthy.
If we are in a relationship that is not based on love, mutual dependence, respect, and dignity, Jesus invites us to make it so.
Sometimes that is a matter of improving communication, so that we’re talking with each other instead of past each other.
Sometimes that’s a matter of making choices that strengthen the relationship – especially these can be choice about what we do with our time, individually and as a family.
And sometimes, painfully, it’s a matter of acknowledging that our marriage is no longer founded on love and mutual dependence, and that respect and dignity are absent. That the marriage has died. And that the loving and healthy action in this instance is to end it.
That, in fact, divorce may be necessary for wholeness.
I believe this is the second aspect of good news, the second word that Jesus has for us. The first good news is to remember that each of us, being human, is broken, and that God loves us in our brokenness. The second is that we are born to die. That nothing gets born without death. That unless a grain falls to the ground and dies, it cannot bear fruit.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has a booklet for individuals who desire to be candidates for rostered leadership. It’s called Vision and Expectations. V&E, for short. In the section having to do with candidates who are married, V&E says this: “Due to human sin and brokenness, in some cases the marital relationship will have to be dissolved.”
When I was in divinity school, I received word that my pastoral mentor had ended her marriage. I wrote her a note in which I expressed my condolences on the death of her marriage. She later told me that “death” was the right description. Because a marital relationship is a living thing, and as with other living things, we tend to it. We nurture it and are attentive to anything that signals a change in its health, and we sometimes take it to the doctor – to our pastor or to a counselor – to improve its health when needed. But sometimes the marriage dies. And in order to find new life after death – as our faith in Christ promises us – in those instances divorce may be necessary for the wholeness of the individuals involved.
The Japanese call it kitsugi. Once the broken pieces are lacquered together and the piece is once again fired in the kiln, the result is that the cracks and breaks are highlighted – and the object ends up more beautiful than ever. Kitsugi treats brokenness and repair as part of the history of an object, instead of pretending that the brokenness – and the repair – never happened.
And I believe that’s a lesson for us. It’s what we can do, as individuals; as a society; and as a church. We can walk with couples contemplating marriage, before it even begins. We can model a shared life that says that every day after the wedding day is worthy of much more time and investment than the idea that we have to put on a production number surrounding the sacrament of marriage. We can have premarital conversations with both partners, establishing the importance of communication from the beginning. We can agree that neither partner is a mind-reader.
Down the road, we can walk with couples whose marriage is not completely healthy. We can listen. We can counsel. We can help with communication issues and trust issues and fundamental differences in outlook.
And when we encounter a marriage that is lacking in love, mutual dependence, respect, and dignity, a marriage for which multiple repairs have not worked, we can walk with the partners through the end of the marriage and beyond. We can acknowledge the death and strive for new growth. We can help mend each partner’s life in a way that makes it more beautiful than ever before.
What would Jesus do?