Sunday 4th October 2015 – Mark 10
So given that there are a few divorced and possibly even remarried people in the congregation today, I think that maybe we should ignore the gospel and focus on the Old Testament. Or at least that is the thought that first crossed my mind when I approached preaching today, to be fair it is often in my mind to take the easy route out of a challenging situation. But No! I realised that actually it is really important that we look more closely at what Jesus was saying because if we don’t we will either feel guilty or just apply the words Jesus says without compassion or understanding.
So here goes a few things that I think we need to explore when approaching this text.
Firstly, it is interesting to consider who was asking the question. We all answer questions differently depending who is asking. “because it is” is a reasonable answer to a 3 year old persistently asking why the moon is in the sky? Not quite such appropriate in response to a police officer enquiring why car is parked on the double yellow line.
The people who have come to ask Jesus this question have come to test him, they are not looking for advice. They are trying to trap Jesus between a rock and a hard place, just like they did with the question over taxes. This time the rock is Moses’ teaching on divorce which basically means a man can write a divorce note and get rid of his wife and go on to remarry. And the hard place which is the behaviour of the ruling Herod family which was rife with divorce and dodgy marriages.
Jesus then comes out with his hard line approach to marriage. In doing this he is not really showing any consideration of Herod and his family, but he is also not following the line of Moses. Jesus is, however, promoting an equality of approach that would be very unusual in those times. Moses’s law had one rule for men and another for women. The line from Jesus whilst appearing hard is at least equally harsh on both men and women.
But Jesus’ words are firm, they take us back to the ideal model that was shown in Genesis, that one man and one women should together create the perfect partnership. The law of Moses was created because it became clear that fallen and sinful people were not always capable of living up to God’s ideal. We use the phrase “what God has joined together let no one separate” as the closing words of the actual marriage during a marriage service, after the exchange of vows and promises, we share that aspiration that God has joined these two people together and no one should put them apart.nnHopefully this is an aspiration that all marriages have, on your wedding day few brides are planning their divorce and when a couple get divorced it is rarely a pain free experience for either of them. A world with no divorce but full of happy people in successful marriages would surely be everyone’s ideal but it is not our reality.
So should we take Jesus’s words literally and apply them to everyone, accusing all divorcees who remarry as being adulterers who have no place in church. Hopefully you won’t be surprised to learn that is not quite how I see these words. Let me explain with reference to some other things that Jesus said….
In the passage before this one we read
“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.”
In passage following this we hear “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven then come follow me.”
Jesus is often found to be saying quite extreme and seemingly hard core statement about how we should live our life. Maybe we have sold all our belongings and given away all our money, maybe we have stayed faithful in our marriage and not got divorced, but I don’t think any of us here have chopped off our hand because it made us sin or poked our eye out. We like to sanitise Jesus’ words and make them fit our reality.
And I think that this is ok, because that is our reality. Let me explain further.
Jesus had an interesting approach to rules, what he often does as he does here, is take a part of the law of Moses and stretches it and stretches it until it encompasses everything. Until Do not murder becomes, do not think murderous thoughts, to do not think angry thoughts against another. Jesu calls back to the ideal, and here is why I think he does that.
Jesus doesn’t let us believe that by obeying the rules we have got it sorted. Jesus is clear that just living by the rules does not make us ok. But following the rules can fool us into thinking that we are ok. So for example, if you are not divorced and remarried and you are sitting here today you might think that you alright, dare I say feeling a little smug? And this is exactly the danger that Jesus is warning us about. To understand this further lets get on to those children.
“Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
Now I love children, I enjoy their company and playing games with them. but I also have no illusions about children, children are not innocent. they are not guiltless or without sin. From quite a young age children can be quite nasty to each other. So when Jesus says we should be like the little children, he is not talking about some Victorian idolised image of children as innocent sinless beings. What Jesus is I think referring to is a child capacity to accept forgiveness and to expect to be loved.
One commentator I read referred to the “graced vulnerability” of children, if you leave a child to fend for itself it will die. But if you offer a child love it will accept that love willingly and without question. There is no second guessing or querying whether or not they are worthy. Could it be that children will inherit the kingdom of God because it never occurs to them that they won’t? Young children don’t expect to have to earn the love of those around them and this is the lesson we are to learn.
A child left to itself will die, if we are left to ourselves we will die. No matter how many rules we follow it will never be enough, because we re incapable of being without sin. Jesus makes it clear that just following the rule will never be enough. Just like the children we need to understand that in order to inherit the Kingdom of God, to receive his grace we need to be helpless.
So what does that say about what Jesus thinks about divorce and remarriage.
Well I think there are two parts to this..
Jesus in his comments is pointing us back to the garden of Eden and the picture of how the world might perfectly be, with man and woman and God in a perfect relationship – but we don’t live in the garden of Eden.
So then Jesus points us to the children, who enter the kingdom of God not because they have kept all the rules and obeyed all the laws but because they know that they can and that their presence gives God pleasure.
It should no longer be our aim to justify ourselves in God’s eyes, but to see how we can bring him our broken lives for healing.
Jesus was getting out of a trap set by some unpleasant people who wanted to get rid of him, not giving pastoral advice to people in difficult and painful circumstances.
But reminded us all that we need to come to him helpless and acknowledging our brokeness, knowing that in doing so we are making our father God very happy. Just like when a small children runs up to a parent for comfort after they have been naughty and want to say sorry.