The Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost
Scripture Reading: Mark 10:2-16
2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied.
4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’[a] 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,[b] 8 and the two will become one flesh.’[c]So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11 He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”
The Little Children and Jesus
13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
- Mark 10:6 Gen. 1:27
- Mark 10:7 Some early manuscripts do not have and be united to his wife.
- Mark 10:8 Gen. 2:24
Sermon: “Hardness of Heart”
Anyone who’s ever gone to school has had that sinking feeling in the pit of his or her stomach as they look at a test question and haven’t the faintest clue how to answer it.
Judging from the puzzled looks on the faces of the students in the clip you’re about to see, they didn’t have a clue how to answer their new professors’ questions, either. They did catch on fast, though.
Of course, school isn’t the only place we face hard to answer questions. Life is full of them. That’s especially the case if you’re job hunting.
Here are some of the oddball interview questions collected at Glassdoor.com.
✓ How lucky are you and why?
✓ If you could sing one song on American Idol, what would it be?
✓ If you were a box of cereal, what would you be and why?
✓ Why is a tennis ball fuzzy?
✓ How honest are you?
✓ You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What color would you be and why?
✓ If there was a movie produced about your life, who would play you and why?
Questions like that aren’t so much about the answer as they are about the person answering. By that measure, the Pharisees in Mark’s gospel came up with a doozy. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
Jesus was in Herod’s territory when they put that question to him. Herod, you might remember, had John the Baptist beheaded for daring to question the validity of Herod’s marriage to his brother’s divorced wife.
Jewish law forbade such a relationship, and John paid the price for pointing that out. One wrong answer to the Pharisees, and Jesus could suffer his cousin’s fate.
Jesus started by telling the Pharisees that they were asking the wrong question. You can’t learn about marriage, he said, by looking at divorce.
He was right, you know. You can’t learn how to fly an airplane by following the instructions for a crash landing. For goodness’ sake, don’t try to learn how to drive by smashing your car into brick walls.
Instead of starting with divorce, Jesus took the Pharisees back to what God intended marriage to be in the first place.
From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Mark 10:6-9)
Divorce was an accepted fact. Jesus’ answer turned that on its head. No wonder the disciples wanted to know more.
In the house the disciples asked Jesus about this matter again. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:10-12)
In a strong defense of women, Jesus said that a man who divorces and remarries not only goes against God’s intention for creation, but also commits adultery against his first wife.
Jesus also went against Jewish law by saying that a woman could divorce her husband. That might happen with the Greeks and Romans, but never with the Jews.
Divorce isn’t God’s intention for marriage, but, because of human sinfulness it happens. We need divorce laws to keep the strong from taking advantage of the weak, to keep victims of violence or abuse from becoming victims again.
If we human beings were perfect, we wouldn’t need laws. We’d know and follow God’s will, written on our hearts. But we aren’t perfect, and God’s will is often the furthest thing from our own. So, we need laws, even laws about divorce.
For Mark, divorce, marriage, and remarriage, were only part of the story. What ties these verses to those that follow is the issue Jesus raised in verse fourteen. Just who does the kingdom of God belong to?
It’s not the powerful, that’s for sure. It’s not the Pharisees who tested Jesus, nor was it the men whose will and whim had decided questions of marriage and divorce in the past.
It was instead a matter of how we treat God’s “little ones,” women treated as property and too easily cast aside, as well as children—whiny, snot-nosed, sick, feverish, crying children.
Every other time Mark uses the Greek word for “touch” in his gospel, it describes Jesus healing someone. There’s a good chance, then, that mothers brought their sick children to Jesus for healing, too.
If that was the case, it makes even more sense that the disciples tried to shoo the children away. “The master doesn’t have time for people like this,” they thought.
That’s where they were wrong. Remember chapter 9?
Jesus sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:35-37)
The disciples had short memories. But, no worries—Jesus reminded them. Oh boy, did he remind them!
Jesus was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; don’t stop them; for it’s to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” (Mark 10:14)
Turn away the weak, Jesus said, and you have no part in God’s kingdom.
We live in a different place from the folks who first heard Mark’s gospel. Expectations of marriage aren’t the same now as they were then. The realities of the human condition aren’t the same either, including how long we live or who we love and marry.
All that’s changed—but much hasn’t. Christ’s little ones, the very young and the very old, the poor, the abused, and the forgotten, they’re all still with us.
Last year, 40 to 45 million Americans lived below the poverty line, $24,858 for a family of four. Of those 45 million, 13 million were children.
Fifteen million American households were food insecure at some time during 2017. That means they either didn’t know if they’d have enough food, or in fact ran out of food, to feed all family members.
On the cross, Jesus showed us that grace must die to itself, serving, giving, and receiving the vulnerable, because it is to “such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”
If, like the disciples, we turn them away, we’ll no longer be lights on a hill, but instead flickering reflections of the selfish hell we’ve made our destiny.