“‘It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,’ Jesus replied.” — Mark 10:5
There are actually three distinct episodes in the lectionary gospel reading today. At first it might appear that there are only two, but the discussion of divorce actually covers a conversation with the Pharisees and a separate discussion with the disciples. Then sandwiched right next to these discussions of divorce, is a beautiful episode of Jesus welcoming children.The Pharisees come to Jesus armed with a question that they hope will somehow trip him up. As usual, he responds right back with a question of his own. The Pharisees answer ‘by the book’ in quoting Deuteronomy 24. Jesus responds by quoting from Genesis 2. His intention is to remind the Pharisees that the unity of man and woman described in Genesis comes pre-Fall, meaning before sin and death entered the world. This union is something complete and whole, a part of God’s ‘good’ creation. The marring of the world through brokenness and sin is why an allowance was made for divorce. It was not God’s beautiful plan, but instead something in response to humanity’s failure.
Later, the disciples are in private with Jesus and they ask a follow-up question that Mark does not relay. Instead, we only have Jesus’ response. Here Jesus speaks primarily about remarriage after divorce. Jesus appears to be more strict with his direct followers than with the public as a whole, which happens on a fairly regular basis. In Matthew 19 we find a similar discussion take place where Jesus appears to relent a little and allow room for appropriate divorce in cases of unfaithfulness (Whether it is a fuller version of this same discussion or another episode altogether is unclear. Marriage was a hot topic among the Pharisees, so it is easily conceivable that marriage questions came up several times.). It would be very unusual to find Christians who say divorce is ok, anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances. It would equally be unusual to find Christians who say divorce is always wrong, no matter what, given that even at his most stern Jesus allows for at least some exception. It certainly seems to me that in scripture is one of those things that is very bad, but it is a solution to even worse situations.
The reading closes with the classic stained glass window portrait of Jesus with the children crowded around him. He has shaken social norms, and told the disciples that these children are the owners of the Kingdom. Children are largely powerless in society. They don’t sit a the table of government, business, or religious hierarchy. It is an awesome statement about the importance of children and one of the reasons the Church has made it a priority to focus on caring for children. I am proud to be a part of the UMC in Kansas where institutions like Youthville figure so prominently in our mission.