Today’s Gospel may be hard for some of you to hear today. Yet, even though some of the words of Jesus may be hard to hear, listen with ears that hear not just law – but hear Jesus’ love and care for you.
The Holy Gospel according to Mark the10th chapter
“Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" 3 He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" 4 They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her." 5 But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6 But from the beginning of creation, "God made them male and female.' 7 "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate." 10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." 13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
“The Gospel of our Lord.”
Today’s Gospel is one of those texts that make pastors cringe when it comes up in the lectionary. I’ll admit that it was tempting to just cut out the first part of the lesson and simply talk about how Jesus welcomes children. Because Jesus does love children. But I think that Jesus has some words that apply to all of us today – and today’s lesson not just about children, and it’s not just about divorce. It’s about God’s intention for us-- for all of us – and our relationships – and how we treat the vulnerable among us. Jesus reminds us that God’s intention is for LOVE and MERCY.
Mercy. That word – “Mercy” -- has been in the news since the visit of Pope Francis. Although I don’t agree with everything that the Pope says or that his tradition espouses – I’m still waiting for an invitation to serve him communion –I agree heartily with his focus on Mercy.
Mercy is the attitude of God towards us. We are people who sometimes make bad choices and in making bad choices we often hurt other people and ourselves – sometimes intentionally and sometimes through a thought-less word or action. The old word for this is sin. As Lutherans we confess that we are sinners – people who make mistakes and hurt others and ourselves. We know that we are people in need of God’s healing and in need of being restored, renewed, made right. This is why, as we come to worship, we confess and we receive God’s gracious gift of forgivenessand mercy… God’s mercy. God’s mercy is God’s gift of forgiving and even forgetting – imagine that! God forgives and forgets the wrong that we have done and instead makes us whole. Restored. Made right.
We are a people who need mercy – and a people that God calls on to show mercy to ourselves and to one another – especially to the most vulnerable.
In Jesus’ day, society was very patriarchal. Women did not have property rights – rather, when a contract of marriage was made, women were treated very much like property. In Jewish Law, divorce was allowed – that is a Jewish man was allowed to divorce his wife. That meant sending her back to her father’s house – with a badge of shame. She had no status, no property, no means of making a living for herself. She became incredibly vulnerable.
The hot-button issue of the day for the Pharisees was not whether divorce was permitted – the Pharisees knew it was legal -- but on what grounds? One school of thought said that divorce was allowed only for unfaithfulness and the other said that divorce was allowed for any reason that displeased the husband – even for as little reason as burning the breakfast toast.
Jesus responded by reminding them of God’s intention for marriage. God’s intention for marriage is for relationship – not for economic gain as was so often done in that day. God’s intention for marriage is to bring two people together for a life together. That’s God’s dream for marriage and for all relationships. Care for each other. Love one another. God’s intention is for love --- and bound up in God’s love is the gift of mercy.
Mercy. This is the word we need to hear today regarding divorce. Because while God’s intention for marriage is relationship – and the intention of most people who marry today is for a life long relationship – we are broken people. We are people who make mistakes, who hurt one another and ourselves --sometimes by forces we cannot control. The truth is, we live in a broken world in which divorce is sometimes the best and sometimes the only viable outcome of a marriage. And that’s when we need to hear a word of Mercy – not judgment.
Jesus disciples lived in a broken world too. The disciples knew this and that’s probably why they asked Jesus to clarify his answer.
Divorce wasn’t as common then as it is now, but, under Roman law, women could also divorce their husbands. There was one case that was very well known at the time: Herodias divorced her husband to marry her brother-in-law, King Herod. It may have been this situation that Jesus was referring to when he said, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."
It’s easy to hear Jesus’ words as words of judgment. But I think Pope Francis had it right when he said, “I think we too are the people who, on the one hand, want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, at times, like to find a stick to beat others with, to condemn others.” And I would add ourselves, because sometimes we are really hard on ourselves. Francis goes on to say – and I agree: “Jesus has this message for us: mercy. I think — and I say it with humility — that this is the Lord's most powerful message: mercy.” I agree.
Mercy. Not judgment. Notice not only what Jesus says, but also what Jesus does. Jesus does what Jesus always does – he stands with the vulnerable, the poor, and those of lowest status. In his culture, that would be the divorced, the widowed, the leper and the children.
That is why, in the midst of this teaching about divorce, while parents and grandparents are interrupting Jesus’ teaching to get him to bless their children, Jesus gets irritated at the disciples for trying to stop them. The disciples are operating within the rules of their society. Children were completely without status. In those days, children were not “to be seen and not heard,” children weren’t even to be seen! Yet Jesus tells his disciples – and us: “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." In other words, Jesus tells them – and us: God’s kingdom does not work like your world works. You can’t use money, influence, power, prestige or even good actions and reputation to squeeze yourself into the kingdom of God!
Instead, we come – you and I – with nothing to commend us, nothing to make us worthy or deserving. We come like the children, widows, divorced people, lepers and the lame of Jesus’ day. We come to Jesus as broken and flawed as we are -- and just as Jesus blessed the children that day, in the same way Jesus grants us mercy - blesses us and names each one of us, “Child of God.”
Mercy. God’s mercy. It’s given by Christ: For you. And now…. Having received Jesus’ blessing, Jesus sends you out – to bless and care for the other – especially those who are most vulnerable in our society. Who are they in our world? The poor? Children of the poor? The disabled? The “immigrant?” Who would you name? Who is vulnerable? Let us seek out the vulnerable within our midst – and provide care and extend Christ’s mercy. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane
October 4, 2015
Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church