2 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.
Oh, The Things We Do For Love.
Last Sunday night, around 10 o’clock, I was in my office working on this week’s sermon.
I had my comfy t-shirt and shorts, and my awesome Rockport slippers.
I was set for the night.
And then Kristen came into the room.
As soon as she said, “Sweetheart,”
I knew I was about to be given a chore.
A mission, if you will.
And she said, “Tonight is the super blood moon, and oh..since you are dressed…would you go out and walk around the house to see if there is anything worth going out to look at?”
I told her “Absolutely not. I am in my comfy clothes. My awesome slippers.”
On the inside.
On the outside,
I stood up, went downstairs took off my slippers and put on my tennis shoes , looking at her the whole time, trying to stare in judgment like the cats and Paul do, and it works for them!
I then say can I get a kiss out of this?
She said, “Quite possibly.”
So I go out, somehow not waking Paul up with the squeaky front screen door (THAT is another chore for another time),
check the front,
check the back,
getting my shoes all wet.
So I get back in.
Give her the news.
She says I am a good husband. And then she walks away to watch television.
The whole time I’m like the things I do for this woman.
Again, on the inside.
On the outside I say I love you, dear and head off to bed.
But it is amazing the things we do for love.
Especially for our wives and husbands.
Our significant others.
We do everything we can to make them happy.
To make them feel loved.
To make them feel safe.
Which makes today’s Gospel very hard to preach.
Divorce is not an easy subject to talk about,
let alone hear from Jesus’ own mouth.
But its right there in the text.
We can’t ignore it.
And for a Gospel lesson, it doesn’t sound very “good newsy”
But that doesn’t mean the Good News isn’t there.
It just means we have to work a little harder to find it.
Actually, to me, that is the point of our reading today.
Sometimes, we have to work hard to find the Gospel.
Not for just our own benefit,
but for the benefit of our neighbor be they a spouse or a child.
Let me explain what I mean.
The topic of divorce is not a modern day phenomenon.
It was a big topic of discussion in the first century.
And just like today it was a complicated matter.
The ancient world was patriarchal,
and wives were regarded as the property of their husbands.
Among Jews, technically only the husband could divorce his wife.
(This is the working assumption in our Gospel lesson.
The Pharisees refer to Deuteronomy 24:1-4.
Where Moses says
“Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house.”
That one phrase: “something objectionable” was hotly debated.
That sounds pretty ambiguous, right?
And there were two schools of Jewish thought:
The root meaning of the Hebrew word, translated “something objectionable,” is “nakedness” or “nudity.”
This led the School of Shammai to conclude that only adultery was grounds for divorce.
But there was a secondary meaning of that Hebrew word and it was”offensive” or “shameful,”
which led the School of Hillel to conclude that
anything the wife did that offended the man was grounds for divorce.
This second school, the Hillels, was the predominant view.
So that meant that a man could divorce his wife if:
The wife spoiled a dish of food
The wife talked to a strange man
The wife spoke disrespectfully of the husband’s relatives
The wife was argumentative
The husband found a woman who as prettier than his current wife.
Before I continue let me look out and make sure none of the husbands are writing these things down.
Now while divorce was a complicated matter,
marriage was a little more clear cut.
Simply put, marriage was not based on love.
As Tina Turner sang, “What’s Love Got TO Do With It?” well, the answer in the first century was NOT MUCH.
Marriage was based on
between two families.
So in a way,
it was not man and woman coming together,
it was man’s family and woman’s family.
It really wasn’t a marriage
it was a merger.
Love was NOT part of the equation.
And in these types of arrangements,
marriage and divorce left women in a very vulnerable position.
Think about it.
You marry a man not because of emotion
but out of economic necessity.
And you don’t have a choice.
And this same man could divorce you if you overcooked his dinner.
And you don’t have a choice.
That is not much of a life.
That is not even living.
It was all about power.
There was no consideration for the real lives that got hurt along the way.
And that is where Jesus comes in.
While the Pharisees refer to the Law of Moses,
Jesus one-ups his adversaries by going back to the beginning and God’s original intent of marriage.
As we heard in our first lesson ,
it was God who said,
“It is not good that the man should be alone;
I will make him a helper as his partner.”
God did not create a “slave” or a piece of “property.”
God created a partnership.
Where one could depend on the other.
A partnership that was a true relationship.
So Jesus is trying to get the 1st century to turn back the clock
and return to the value that God placed on the first couple:
Adam and Eve.
But Jesus is not just trying to get back to the beginning.
Jesus is also standing on the side of the vulnerable.
Standing on the side of the ones who had
and no voice.
This is the Good News.
This is the Gospel for the women in that society
Who were considered property and not people.
This is the Gospel for the people,
like the children,
who were considered a burden on society.
And children play a role in this week’s lesson.
I like to call the last few week’s worth of Gospel lessons “The Children Section”
because children play a role in Jesus’ teaching.
Back in Mark 9:33-37, the disciples had argued about who was the greatest,
and Jesus asserted that “whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
By way of example,
Jesus took a child in his arms and said,
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (9:37)
And now just 25 verses later,
we have the disciples scolding the parents for bringing the children to Jesus.
They just don’t get it.
But the disciples are just acting like any other adult of that time.
You see, in the first century, children did not matter.
They were of very low status.
Lower than women.
They didn’t talk about “sweet, innocent children.”
Children were seen as “spoiled, rotten, undisciplined brats.”
They were often hardships on families in poverty.
Rather than an “Awwww” reaction like in today’s world,
they would receive an “Ewwwww” reaction from adults,
especially those of influence in the society.
As a parent it breaks my heart to think that children,
the defenseless ones,
were considered trash and not treasure.
But BUT BUT
Jesus saw them for what they were.
Rather than pushing the children away, Jesus embraces them.
He acknowledges their existence.
He restores their value.
Not as property but as people.
Just like the women in the first part of our gospel,
Jesus brings the good news to a group of people who needed to know that
That they mattered.
This is the Good News.
Once again you just have to look for it but the GOSPEL is there!
So what do we do with this Good News?
How can we bring this Gospel into our world, in our time?
Let’s start with the easy answer.
Love your children!
Cherish all children.
Put their needs before yours.
Especially if their needs are spiritual.
Parents, Grandparents, if your children (grandchildren) say they want to go to church, there is only one response.
And I would encourage you to not just drop off your children, but that you stay and learn as well.
Show your children that learning and talking about God is just as important in your lives as it is in your children’s lives!
Now an even hard answer.
What about divorce?
Divorce is still a major issue in our society.
One way or another, we all here in this congregation have felt the impact of divorce.
Perhaps we have gone through a divorce,
or we are children of a divorce,
or we have seen family or church members or friends go through a divorce.
It is not an easy ordeal.
There is pain.
There is loss.
There is grieving over something that once had life that is now gone.
There is sin.
But there is also grace.
There is also forgiveness.
When Jesus stands up for the weak,
or the powerless,
like he does in our story this morning,
He is standing up for us.
We all fall short.
We are all sinners.
And YET we are all still and always will be children of God.
And what does Jesus say?
“Let them come to me.”
Jesus is telling all of us, “Come to me.”
Jesus does not push us away when we sin,
Jesus pulls us closer.
We cannot pick and choose who gets the Grace because as we read and study the story of Jesus
we know that Jesus did not discriminate when it came to who he loved.
When Jesus went to the cross,
he went to take away our sins.
All of them.
There was not an asterisk on the cross that listed exemptions to the salvation that was won.
Jesus did not pick favorites.
He picked all of us.
And so for those of you who are divorced,
you are welcome here.
You are a part of this family.
That’s not me saying it.
For those of you who feel vulnerable or weak or lonely,
You are a part of this family.
That’s not me saying it.
While the Gospel might be hard to hear, there is still much grace and love to be found.
Oh the things we do for love.
And the things that Jesus does for love.
The things that Jesus does for US.