Sunday, October 4, 2015


Mark 10:2-16
October 4, 2015, World Communion Sunday
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

This scripture is actually two stories in three scenes: controversy, at home, and blessing the children. Jesus has left Caparnaum and crossed the Jordan into Judea. The Pharisees, teachers of the law, confront him and ask him to answer question regarding divorce. They try to put him in a corner by asking him to interpret scripture and say something that will create trouble for him. If he answers one way, he is in conflict with Jewish laws on divorce; if he answers another way, he is in conflict with Roman laws on divorce. Either way, it is just three chapters back that Jesus learned of the execution by beheading of his cousin John the Baptist. John’s crime was criticism of Herod for marrying Herodias, who had divorced Herod’s brother in order to marry Herod. In any case, the teachers challenge Jesus, and instead of debating, he turns the conversation on end. Then at home, he discusses the matter with the disciples. Perhaps the disciples were still upset about what they had heard, when they turned the children away – but Jesus will not permit it. He indignantly insists that they let the children come. Let’s listen for God’s word to us in Mark 10:2-16.

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But 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.”

Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 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.”

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 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. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

There’s an old joke about a guy who asks a rabbi,
“Rabbi, why do Jews always answer a question with another question?”
The rabbi says, “Why do you ask?”
The rabbi Jesus is doing just that at the outset of this story.
The Pharisees ask a question about divorce, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
and Jesus answers with another question – “What did Moses command?”
They know the law, so they recite it. Of course, Jesus knows the law, too.
And everyone on the scene knows that the Pharisees are not asking Jesus
for information about the law of Moses.
They know it and he knows they know it.

Jesus won’t take the bait. Instead, he turns the conversation around. They want to talk about the law, and he starts talking about their hearts. They want to address a matter of interpretation of the law; he wants to talk about God’s deepest desire for humans – loving, covenant relationship. And that is what he is getting at later, in the second conversation, at home with the disciples. The disciples have asked about the subject, and Jesus again turns to the matter of covenant. He is not making new laws about marriage and divorce; he is talking about the effects of a broken covenant on the human heart.

In both Jewish and Roman law of the time, the men had most of the power.
For Jewish couples, only the man could file for divorce.
He did so by presenting a document to his wife notifying her of the divorce.
He could do so for just about any reason.

For Roman couples, marriage and divorce alike were simply a matter of making a statement in front of seven witnesses. You say you are married, you’re married – or, more likely, your parents would say you are getting married, at least for the first marriage.

Marriages were arranged to consolidate wealth and improve status. Roman women were generally married off in their early teens. Roman men usually married the first time in their mid-twenties. For Roman citizens - and only citizens could marry – to get a divorce, you just said it was so. No paperwork involved, no lawsuits. Women had slightly more independence, but only if they had money.

In both cases, Jewish or Roman, women and children were vulnerable. In Roman households, a newborn had to be accepted by the father. If he did not claim the child, it was left to die of exposure. In Jewish households, the relationship was not so harsh, but the high mortality rate of young children was such that parents did not get terribly attached to infants.

In either culture, children could be given away, or sold as servants or slaves.
There were no custody battles – children belonged to their fathers, and wives belonged to their husbands. A divorce would leave both wives and children in extremely precarious situations.

So, typical of Jesus, he privileges relationship and humanity over law and rules.
He declines to enter into a squabble about the interpretation of the law.
He is not attempting to anticipate modern jurisprudence,
nor is he making a blanket pronouncement about who may or may not marry.
Above all, this is not a proof-text for what some people call “biblical divorce.”

Instead, Jesus addresses God’s intention for marriage –
to establish a loving, intimate covenant that offers shelter, safety, security and joy
for both people, and their children, if they have them.
It is a covenant of love that protects the most vulnerable.
In taking this view of marriage,
Jesus goes outside the lines once again,
taking the discussion outside of the realm of the Mosaic law,
and moving it into the heart of the matter –
intimate relationships grounded in the creative love of God.

In our culture nowadays, there are many voices speaking about marriage. There are many who claim to have the absolute correct interpretation of scripture; they speak with the authority of one who is God’s own prophet. Often, those loud voices want to confine their discussion to the marriages of other people, not to their OWN choices about relationships.

And all too often, those voices raised with such volume and self-appointed authority have very little to say about divorce, or about troubled marriages, or those made vulnerable in a divorce.

Jesus understood that when a marriage comes apart, things get broken.
Hearts are broken, homes are broken, promises are broken.
In many cases, crockery is broken.
And in some cases, bones get broken.

People are broken. Jesus knew that.

And so he speaks not to the law, which was broken as well, but to the hearts of men and women. Intimate relationships are grounded in the creative love of God. The family is created in order to shelter and nurture that love.

It is only natural, then, that in the next scene, Jesus reaches out to the children.
Parents are bringing their children to him. They want their children to be blessed.
The disciples, who never quite seem to catch on in Mark’s gospel,
try to stop them – they tell them to go away.

Did you see any of the videos of the children coming up to Pope Francis,
on his recent visit? how the security guards tried to stop them,
but Francis reached out to them, took them in his arms, and blessed them?
It was like that, only better.

Because Jesus knows that we are broken people,
and so he takes us into his loving hands, and blesses us.
On this World Communion Sunday, Jesus sees also
that the world is broken, broken and in need of blessing.
He knows that even in our best efforts at loving relationship,
we fall short –
we struggle to love as we ought,
we lose sight of our promises,
we fail to be partners who are kind, patient, and faithful.

Jesus sees how we fail to bless children –
how children around our broken world
are left alone, hungry, begging, enslaved.
Jesus sees children kidnapped and turned into child soldiers or child brides.
He sees children shot down in their school rooms,
and grieving at the gravesides of their parents.

Jesus sees children who have been abandoned or abused,
and he sees their broken hearts and broken dreams.
It makes him indignant.

He grieves with them; he grieves with us.
But he does not merely grieve, he is not merely outraged.
His heart breaks too.

So he reaches out to us, to welcome us, to take us in his arms and bless us.
He reaches out to welcome us to his table. For this is where Jesus binds up the brokenhearted. This is where Jesus takes what is broken – our world, our relationships, our lives, our promises, and our covenants.

Jesus invites us to this table, and when we come,
all of us, from north and south and east and west, to join the joyful feast,
he takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to us. 
What is broken becomes whole.
He pours out the cup, and in it we drink of the new covenant.
The stranger becomes the welcome guest. The many become one.
The saints gather here, the sinners gather here,
and in this breaking, blessing and giving
we are renewed and restored,
our brokenness healed in the bread that is broken,
our emptiness filled by the cup that is poured,
in the blessing that is freely given –
for you, for me, for all of us,
for the world, for all time.


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