DURING THE readings for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, we again hear an important teaching passed on to the church from the Gospel According to Saint Mark. In this text. our Lord addressed the legal problems of the day associated with marital divorce, and also spoke of the morality of a society that had little regard for the lives of children. We read…
And Pharisees came up and in order to test him 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 divorce, and to put her away.”
But Jesus said to them, “For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 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. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”
And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And 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.”
And they were bringing children to him, that he might touch them; and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it he was indignant, and said to them, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands upon them. (Mark 10:2-16)
The text that we deal with in many churches this week falls hard upon the ears of many persons. And well it should be. Within the text, the author related to the early church concerning the laws governing practices within their scattered society. Problematic for them was the difference between what had been written in the law for the lands situated within Palestine, over against what was occurring in the lands beyond. You see, within Palestinian lands a man could sue for divorce but a woman could not. However, out in the Roman Empire beyond those geographic bounds, including the arena where this Markan text was written, it was legal that women could also sue for divorce. Thus an issue was at work behind the questioning. This was the dichotomy through which the Pharisees would draw out the opinion of Jesus, in hoping to entrap him in controversy.
In the answer he gave, however, we find guidance for not only the church of Mark, but for the church of today. First of all, turning the question back upon them, our Lord asked what Moses had taught. When they answered rightly, he explained the "hardness of heart" moral reason for the mandate. Second, he related the status of marriage as first established by God, as explained from the beginning in the order of creation.
By quoting the scriptures believed to be passed along from Moses, Jesus thus side-stepped the diabolical test put before him. He taught concerning the eternal character intended for the monogamous, permanent unity exclusively meant for a man and a woman.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it… (Genesis 1:27)
We need realize that today in the legalisms presently working within modern society, we have many governmental challenges to this creative order, Therefore, I consider that it is the responsibility of the church to speak clearly. We need to speak just as Mark related the words of Jesus about the matter in the latter years of the first century.
Because of the heat of modern debate, misunderstanding and misinterpretation are to be quenched by the power of the Holy Spirit. We need to emphasize the words, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” This single sentence speaks to the status of marriage before God. For this reason, I refer you to an article written on the topic.
In the same way, the Markan text shifted the focus of the early church to the first century society’s casual and demeaning attitudes concerning children. As we know, this topic has also echoed through time into our modern consciousness. Not only has the highest U.S. court spoken on the merits of marriage among non-heterosexual partners, it had also stepped beyond the life supporting stance of our Lord in the legalisms of defining when life begins.
While it is not the purpose of this dialog to sway opinions for either issue, I simply call you as faithful Christians and church communities to allow the Holy Spirit to teach concerning the unchanging, eternal character of the scripture. Therefore the admonishments given by Jesus to the Pharisees and the church of Mark yet stand before us today. Let us then, though we are too often sinfully influenced by our culture, pray for tongues to speak gently to one another plainly about such matters. To assist you, I offer a writing done previously by myself…
While you weigh these matters before the altar of our God, may the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord.