Oct 7, 2018

“Let No One Separate” - Mark 10:2-16

“Let No One Separate” - Mark 10:2-16

            On a television show, “Divorce Wars,” a thriving divorce lawyer found himself on the brink of divorce, even though he strongly believed in family life.  He was learning first hand that it takes two persons to get married, but it only takes one person to get a divorce.  As he was wrestling with all of this, he turned to an old friend for advice.  “Max, how on earth have you managed to stay married for over forty years?”

            Max, being older, had a rather profound and illuminating answer.  “I guess in our generation we didn’t expect as much from each other.  And the funny thing is, we ended up getting more.”  Our Gospel reading takes his wisdom one step further.  For in it, Jesus tells us to expect great things from God, and we will still end up getting even more.

            At first glance, it seems as if our Gospel reading for today has to do with this very thing.  At first glance, it appears to be about divorce.  At first glance, it seems to be a passage meant to stir up guilt.  Like last week’s gouge-your-eye-out and cut-your-hand-and-foot-off passages, Jesus’ words seem to have a rough edge to them.  It sounds like a terribly tough teaching.  It’s enough to make most of us ask, “Where’s the good news in all of this.”  Thankfully, there is far more going on than first meets the eyes.  As usual, Jesus gives us even more than we expect.   

Our story kicks off with some Pharisees trying to put Jesus between a rock and a hard place.  They boldly march right up and confront him.  In front of God and everybody they ask him a question that they think will put him on the spot.  “Tell us Jesus.  Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?  We’re just dying to hear what you have to say.”

            I guess we’d better take a closer look at this confrontation.  Let’s see what Jesus has to say to those Pharisees.  And while we’re at it, let’s see what Jesus has to say to us on what seems to be a troubling subject.

            Let us pray.  Dear God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

            Jesus continues to deliberately make his way south.  He leaves Galilee behind and enters Judea.  In Mark’s Gospel, this is the only time that Jesus sets foot in Jerusalem.  And as we know, when he finally goes there for this his very first time, he will be killed.

            A group of Pharisees spot Jesus, and this can only mean trouble.  They are not his friends.  They’re already plotting to destroy him.  And in Mark, the only ones to put Jesus to the test are Satan and the Pharisees.  So we can be sure they’re up to no good.  This day, they ask him a hot potato of a question.  And it’s not because they’re curious.  They already think they know the right answer.  They just want to put Jesus to the test.  So, they set the bait to trap him.  Just like they will a couple of chapters later when they ask him if it’s lawful to pay taxes to Caesar.  Clearly, with this question, they’re trying to set him up.  They think that no matter what he says, he’ll end up in deep trouble.  “Tell us Jesus.  Perhaps you can clear something up for us.  Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

            Then, they smugly stand back to watch.  They wait to see if Jesus will go for the bait.  This time, they expect him to fall right into their trap.  They can’t wait to nail him.  The fact is, they are jealous of his popularity.  And it makes them furious when Jesus is able to evade one of their carefully laid traps.

            Again, Jesus sees right through them, and he answers their question with a question of his own.  He’s clever like that.  “What does Moses have to say about this?”  Jesus points them right toward their own scripture.  The Law of Moses is their ultimate authority, and they can’t believe he’s just handed them the home field advantage.  They quickly reply.  “The Law allows a man to divorce his wife.”

            Almost everyone agreed on that.  But the hotly debated question was what is the acceptable reason for a divorce.  One school of thought was very strict.  Marriage could only be ended because of adultery.  But later Jesus complicates this by saying anyone who looks with lust has committed it.  Another school was much, more permissive.  A man could divorce his wife if he didn’t like the way she looked or even if she burned his toast.  So, no matter how he answers, he’s bound to offend.

          And marriage was very different in those days.  Women hardly had any rights. They were property. And because they were property, the man is the one who had the power to divorce.  Notice how the Pharisees put it.  “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”  And divorce was devastating. It was particularly devastating for the woman.  For the woman it usually meant public disgrace, grave financial struggles, and a severely limited future for herself and her children.  She would become an outcast who would be forced to struggle just to survive.  And those Pharisees should have known that Jesus has a soft spot for underdogs.

            So, just get a load of how Jesus handles this grilling.  Just notice how he turns it all on its head.  Remember, the Pharisees have asked him what they think is a simple yes-or-no question.  And the simple answer is, “Yes.  Of course, it’s legal.  Moses said so.”  But Jesus has the nerve to disagree with Moses.  You see, Jesus doesn’t want this question to simply be a legal question.  After all, just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s right.  No, Jesus doesn’t want to treat it as some cold and detached question.  That’s because for him, it’s a relationship issue.

            Like he did with Satan in the wilderness, Jesus responds by quoting scripture.  “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.  But let me tell you how it was meant to be.”  Jesus then proceeds to paint a picture for the Pharisees and for us of what all relationships are intended to be.  Healthy and whole.

            Jesus takes them back to the beginning.  To the very beginning of creation.  He lets them know that God created men and women as equals.  That one was not meant to rule over the other.  And that God created marriage as a gift because a good marriage brings out the best in people.  Yes indeed, good relationships bring out the best in people.

            Yes, Jesus points them back to God’s plan and God’s will for all relationships.  And with that answer, the Pharisees can find no stones to throw.  So what we have here, according to one Bible scholar, is not just a teaching on divorce, but a clear example of Jesus winning another dispute with his demonic opponents.  For now, they’re held in check. 

Jesus and his disciples then head to a house for the night.  There, he continues to teach them.  And they are sure in need of more teaching.  Remember, just last week he warned them to not put stumbling blocks in the way of little ones.  And here, they do that very thing.  They holler at some people who bring their children to be blessed by Jesus.  And this really ticks him off.   We’re told he became indignant.  “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; do not try to separate them from me.  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.”  Then, he takes them in his arms and blesses them.

            By both his teaching and by his actions, Jesus is saying that all relationships are important.  That they are gifts from God.  That they are designed by God to make us healthy and whole.  That they are to be taken extremely seriously.  That like little children, we are to receive them and cherish them as the gifts from God they are meant to be.

            But most of us know that some relationships fall far short from what they are meant to be.  It is true that God approves of relationships, but it’s also true that God desires for all people to live in peace.  So, it’s hard to imagine God wants anyone to stay together for wrong or harmful reasons.  I offer this humorous example that’s similar to the one Gerald Partridge shared with the Guiding Light Class last week. 

A couple was celebrating a golden wedding anniversary. Their domestic tranquility had long been the talk of the town. A local newspaper reporter came by inquiring as to their secret.  “Well, it all dates back to our honeymoon,” the husband answered.

“We visited the Grand Canyon and took a trip down to bottom by pack mule.  We hadn’t gone too far when my wife’s mule stumbled.  She quietly said, ‘That’s once.’  We proceeded a little further, and the mule stumbled again.  Once more she quietly said, ‘That’s twice.’  We hadn’t gone a half-mile more when the mule stumbled a third time.  My wife quickly pulled out a revolver and shot that mule dead.  I was completely shocked.  I started to protest, but no sooner had the words come out of my mouth when she looked at me and quietly said, ‘That’s once’.”

Obviously, force or fear of force is not a healthy ingredient in any relationship.  No sane and caring person would suggest that it is. 

            And with Jesus, it’s not three strikes and your out.  With Jesus, it’s about reaching out, loving, forgiving, and healing.  Broken people and broken relationships.  Men.  Women.  Children.  All of us.  You see, God created the world in love, and this same God is healing the world with love.  Because of that, we are given the gift of hope.  Reminded that God is not finished with this old world yet.  Therefore, we can be a people of hope no matter what breaks.  No matter what this world throws at us.  That’s because God isn’t finished with us.  Thanks be to God.   Amen.