Text: Mark 10:2-16
Date: Pentecost XX Proper 22 + 10/7/18
This is apparently a week for character assassination, false accusations and “guilty until proved innocent.” It wasn’t with any interest in fairness that the Pharisees were looking for evidence that Jesus was an OK guy. They came with a question “in order to test him.” It seemed like a harmless but sensitive test. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” They were sure they had the perfect question to catch Jesus.
Briefly, you see, there were two schools of thought regarding grounds for divorce named after the teaching of two Rabbis named Shammai and Hillel regarding what Moses wrote in Deut. 24:1, saying regarding the wife if the man “has found some indecency in her…he (may) write her a certificate of divorce and put it in her hand and send her out of his house.” The question between the two schools of interpretation was what did Moses means by “some indecency”? Shammai taught the stricter definition limiting it to something like adultery. Hillel taught the more liberal interpretation saying the wife can be removed for nearly any reason from finding a better-looking woman to burning his breakfast biscuits. Guess which school of thought was more common in Jesus day. Which school is more common today?
So the perfect trap consisted in this. If Jesus chose Shammai’s stricter view they could press Him on His friendly treatment of sinners. On the other hand, if He chose Hillel’s more liberal view they could charge Him with moral laxity. But there was also a third hand, namely, either way they could charge Him with contradicting the Law of Moses.
The good news is that they didn’t have to spend a week’s coverage of investigations on television. Jesus simply turned the question around on them. “What did Moses command you?” It wasn’t that God at all agreed with any grounds or reason at all for rending asunder what God had created. It was of God’s mercy that He allowed for divorce. The cause was not God’s will but the hardness of heart of sinners from which He had a plan to save us.
Jesus pointed to God’s perfect will and creation. Marriage is of God’s own creation. Interestingly it wasn’t when Eve came on the scene that marriage was invented, it was built in to God’s own creation of Adam as incomplete until God provided a “helper fit for him.”
The issue here is not trying to find “grounds” or a way to get rid of each other. More fundamental is the opposite; spending your energy on making the marriage work! I have always taught that the essence of sin, the first thing that ought to come into your mind is “separation.” Sin results in physical death, the separation of the soul from the body, something God never intended but is “the wages” guilt into His Law. Likewise, when separation happens to a married couple it is called divorce. The Bible is very clear that God hates sin and God hates divorce. Malachi 2:16, “For I hate divorce, says the Lord the God of Israel” (RSV).
Who is hurt the most by a divorce? Our text goes immediately to children. “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them.” Actually, Jesus took them into His arms. “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Children don’t question God. They raise their head and open their eyes wide with accepting interest whenever you teach them about God. Jesus says that’s the way we are to be, too!
By His cross, suffering, death and resurrection Jesus has taken away the wall of separation between God and sinners. Therefore, He can also take away the walls of divorce we so easily construct by changing us with repentance, faith, hope and love. May God continue to bless your marriage and your little children. May He give to you the completion and the joy of marriage. May He comfort you with the memory of a beloved husband or wife now departed. May He fill any emptiness you may feel in the single life. And may God take all children in His arms and bless them.