I’ve been thinking about this phrase, “the bar is impossibly high,” a lot this week. It started on Monday when grades were due for my first summer in Sewanee’s Advanced Degree Program. I mentioned it on Facebook and one of my professors responded saying, “message received.” My witty retort was, “I’ve only been waiting 8 years for a few papers from VTS, don’t worry Charles, the bar in unimaginably low.” Since then, I’ve read these lessons for Sunday a handful of times and repeatedly thought, even mentioning it in yesterday’s post, “Wow! Jesus sets the bar impossibly high.” He’ll do it again next week, calling a wealthy, would-be disciple to sell what he owns and give the money to the poor.
Jesus sets the bar impossibly high.
To overly simplify things, there are two possible responses to an impossible situation. Either we shrug our shoulders and walk away or we seek out a way to make the impossible happen. More often than not, I’m guessing, human beings choose the former – perhaps more so every day. The old adage used to be, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” but these days “when the going gets tough, the tough go away” is probably more accurate. When it comes to marriage, this seems especially true, and yet the challenge of Jesus is almost unfair.
Eve is to Adam, “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.” For thousands of years, marriage was an economic transaction, the exchange of a woman and her future ability to produce children, for some amount of resources. Today, while biologically we still seek out partners suitable for reproduction, our search for a life partner is presumably more about mutual fulfillment and joy than it is about ample hips and a steady supply of agricultural laborers. After the first two human beings were made, the ability to seek out “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” went away. Instead, we are left to seek out partners based on physical attraction, personality, earning potential, and 29 dimensions of compatibility. The difference between “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” and eharmony.com is immense, and yet Jesus still sets the bar for human relationships impossibly high.
So then, if we are going to choose to find a way to make the impossible, possible, how do we go about doing it? Jesus gives us a clue in his response to the Pharisees, “Because of your hardness of heart [Moses] wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation…” In the beginning of creation, the relationship between humanity and God was perfect, on par with the relationship of the triune Godhead. Jesus seems to indicate that if we want to find a way to make the impossible happen, we need to return to that type of relationship with God, and we do that by entering into relationship with his Son.
We’re still humans and we will, without a doubt, screw up relationships, but the promise here seems to be that if we keep our relationship with God in line, then the rest of our relationships will be easier. Not perfect. Not even easy. Easier. I’m officiating a wedding on Saturday. Have I mentioned that? I get to preach marriage on Saturday and divorce on Sunday. They couple has selected 1 Corinthians 13 as their only lesson for the day. Paul’s opening line of this great love chapter has helped me see how to climb over the impossibly high bar, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” Without God, who is love, we humans can’t have love. Without love, we have nothing and our relationships are doomed to failure.
Jesus set the bar impossibly high, but with the love of God, the impossible can happen.