(Modified 2021-10-03: Added audio recording of this sermon)
St. Mary’s, Regina, Trinity 18, October 3, 2021 Mark 10. 1-15 Revd. Canon Claude Schroeder
I think today’s sermon would be aptly titled, “ Uncomfortable Words: Part 2” following on from “Uncomfortable Words Part 1”, which was last Sunday. This was the bit about causing one of Jesus’ little ones to lose faith in Him, and getting thrown into the sea with a millstone around your neck, and then better to amputate the hand and the foot, and gouge out the eye that causes you to stumble, than to be thrown into hell where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched…
And today’s Uncomfortable Word?
“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
But Jesus does not speak these uncomfortable words merely for the sake of making us feel uncomfortable. He speaks them for the same reason as He speaks to us the “Comfortable Words,” which we, thank God, will hear later in the service. These words are spoken for our healing of mind, body, and spirit, and the restoration of our Communion with God, and with each other.
So whether you are happily single, or unhappily single, happily married, or unhappily married, contemplating divorce or recovering from one, planning on getting married or re-married, it really doesn’t matter. Deep down we are all the same in the same boat: a suffering, sin-sick people in search of healing. What Jesus says here is Good News, and we need to hear it, and welcome it as such.
As always when it comes to interpreting the Scriptures, context is important.
Mark tells us that Jesus “left his home territory of Galilee, and went to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan, and the crowds gathered to him again, and as was his custom, he taught them.”
This shift in location, from Galilee to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan is important, because Jesus is drawing near to Jerusalem, where, as Jesus has repeatedly reminded us , he will is going to “betrayed into the hands od men. Be killed, and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8.31, 9.12. 9.30)Jesus understands that He is living under a sentence of death, and here in Mark Chapter 10, it is as if He has moved onto death row. The kind of conversations you have on death row are of an entirely different order to the kind of conversations you have anywhere else. On death row you want to talk about things that really matter, and what’s on your heart. What does Jesus wants to talk about as He awaits execution? Among other things we wants to talk about marriage and children, which interestingly enough is exactly what was on God’s heart in the first conversation He had with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Who and what will be on your heart as you approach the hour of your death?
But this phrase, “in the region of Judea beyond the Jordan” should ring bells with us, because at the very beginning of Mark’s Gospel this is where John the Baptist began his ministry, calling on the people to repent. Here is Jesus now in the same territory doing the very same thing.
John, you remember, publically criticized Herod, the ruler of Galilee, saying it was not lawful for him to marry his brother’s wife. Herod did not take kindly to having the preacher call him out on his sexual ethics, and so had John arrested, thrown into prison, and later executed.
This explains why it was that the Pharisees came to Jesus and asked him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
It was a trap. It was test.
If Jesus says “ no” the Pharisees can report him to Herod, who maybe will have Jesus arrested, and solve the Pharisees’ problem for them.
If Jesus says “ yes” it is lawful, He would then find himself forced to take sides in a argument that was raging among the rabbis of the time over what constituted appropriate grounds for divorce. Is Jesus a hard line conservative who will only allow divorce in the case of adultery? Or is Jesus a liberal, who will allow a man to divorce his wife because she burnt the toast?
Either way, Jesus loses.
But Jesus refuses to be baited by the question, and, in true rabbinical style, answers the question by posing a question of his own, ‘What did Moses command you?”
Did Moses command a man to divorce his wife?
Of course not.
Nowhere in the Bible is a man commanded to divorce his wife.
He is commanded to marry his wife.
But as the Pharisees rightly point out, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put his wife away.”
There is a difference between to command something, and to allow something.
Christians have a word for this allowance. It is called “ grace.”
Why is this grace?
Both then and now marriages break down, for any number of reasons. But back then, it was only the man who had the legal right to divorce his wife, who without question always came out the loser. She was the vulnerable party. But with a certificate of divorce in hand, she would be in a position to honorably remarry. Moses’ requirement that the husband write out a certificate of divorce served as a protection for his wife.
The question is, “What was behind this allowance of Moses?”
Jesus says it was for your “hardness of heart.”
This for Jesus is the heart of the issue.
What did Jesus mean by “hardness of heart?”
A hard-hearted man lacks tenderness and feeling, in contrast to Jesus who is humble and lowly of heart. In a marriage, hard heartedness means that man is unable to give of himself fully and completely to the woman. The reverse is also true.
Where does hard-heartedness come from?
As a strategy for self-protection, it comes from a wounded heart, which taken together makes for huge difficulties, if not impossibilities, in the marriage.
But in the Bible “hard heartedness” is a description also of a person who is deaf to the Word of God.
“Today O that ye would hear his voice, harden not your hearts…” (Psalm 95.8)
Jesus is here putting his finger on the fundamental problem of being human, that we all face. Our hearts have been wounded by sin , and rather than allowing ourselves to be hurt again, we harden them.
What is the solution to this problem?
The solution is two fold. The wounded heart needs to be cleansed and healed through mercy and forgiveness.
“Create in me a clean heart O God, a renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51.10)
The hardened heart needs to be broken through repentance.
“The sacrifice of God is broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart you will not despise.”( Psalm 51.17)
So here is the Good News: there is cleansing and healing for the wounded heart, and there is softening of the hardened heart.
How does this healing and this softening happen?
It happens in an encounter with the Living Word of God who is Jesus Christ.
Here we see Jesus, revealing Himself to be that living Word of God, and Israel’s true King, by directing the Pharisees away from a conversation about divorce and toward a conversation about marriage, and what God’s original intention was, in creating us in His image, male and female.
“For this reason, says Jesus, “ 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. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”
Doesn’t this just break your heart?
I mean, what have we done to the holy institution of marriage?
Over the course of human history we have made it into an exchange of property. We have made into a means of establishing and cementing social and political alliances. We made it into an arena of exploitation and abuse. But more recently in our culture, we have made marriage into a vehicle for romantic self-expression and self fulfillment. They fell in love, got married, and lived happily ever after…Isn’t that they way it’s supposed to go? So what happens when one partner in the marriage, falls out of love? Then it’s time to go looking for someone else to fall in love with.
But when Jesus says , “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her, “ He is not closing the door on divorce and remarriage, per se, so much as blowing the whistle on sexual exploitation, where a a man will divorce his wife in order to marry someone else, just as someone might replace an old car with a newer model. In other words, divorce must not used as a legal loophole to justify adultery. For Jesus, the offense in this case, is not against the woman’s father or husband, as in Jewish law, but against the woman herself. He commits adultery against her. So it’s not simply a matter of breaking a rule, as it is the deep wounding of another person. The reverse is also true. The woman who divorces the husband in order to marry someone else, commits adultery against him.
Nobody had ever said anything like this before. It’s why St. Paul would later write, “For the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does.” ( 1 Corinthians 7.4)
Ever wonder why divorce hurts so much? What Jesus says here explains as much. It is a tearing apart of something personal, of what God has joined together.
Safe to say we no longer know as a culture know what marriage is about. In As the American theologian Stanley Hauerwas has pointed out,
“when marriage becomes a mutually enhancing arrangement until something goes wrong, then it makes no sense at all to oppose homosexual marriages. If marriage is a calling that makes promises of lifelong monogamous fidelity in which children are welcomed, then we’ve got a problem. But we can’t even get to a discussion there, because Christians no longer practice Christian marriage…”
When Jesus announces “for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh,” He wasn’t just talking about marriage. He was talking about Himself, and His mission, and how it was that He, as the Bridegroom, was going to lay down His life, on the Cross, for His Bride, the Church, and become one flesh with her. We, who through faith and baptism have been grafted into the Church, have also become very members, one flesh of the Body of Christ. This is a marriage that was made in heaven, and it is one marriage that is not going to end in divorce.
And it is into this marriage that God welcomes and gathers all the lost, neglected, rejected, and hurting children from broken homes and broken marriages.
It’s why Jesus said unto them, “Let the children come unto me” for “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
What was it about children that Jesus prizes so much? Is it not their weakness? Is it not their helplessness? Is it not the condition of absolute dependence?
This, says Jesus, is where God is to be found.
For a selfish and self-centered person, it makes no sense to welcome the weak, helpless, and dependent child, or remain faithful in a relationship when temptation beckons. From the very beginning, however, God has welcomed us in our weakness and in our helplessness, and has remained faithful, and that’s good news.