Emmitsburg Council of Churches


The Holy Gospel according Mark 10:2-16

10:2 Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" 10:3 He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" 10:4 They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her." 10:5 But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 10:6 But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 10:7 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 10:8 and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 10:9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate." 10:10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 10:11 He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 10:12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."

10:13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 10:14 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. 10:15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." 10:16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

The Gospel of the Lord . . . 

Marriage and Family
are Matters of Life

Here is a challenging beginning for your new pastor!! (And I thought that the call committee had asked all of the hard questions!! Or that Seminary had prepared me for ALL the difficult circumstances of parish life!) The topic of Divorce is one the subjects Jesus preached about that makes, not just me as your preacher, but, all of us uncomfortable as we are placed in a position where our faith and Christian walk becomes challenged by the conditions and realities of where we all find ourselves in light of Jesus’ words in today’s lesson.

Wanting to get my ministry with you off on the right foot, I wish I did not even have to bring up the “D” word, but it cannot be avoided when Jesus speaks such strong words about Divorce in today’s lesson. But before we go there and get very uncomfortable with ourselves in light of what Jesus is saying. Let us consider the wider scope and the full breadth of all of this morning’s lessons. I want for you to especially remember the passage from 2 Corinthians 5:17 where the Pauline writer proclaims that “In Christ Jesus we are all new creations, everything old has passed away!! Behold!! Everything has become new! So do not fear not despair as we discuss and seek out the meaning of Jesus’ words about divorce and remarriage, but keep in mind God’s overarching forgiveness, and mercy. In the spirit of the Gospel there is continually opportunity for new beginnings – and in the lesson today, perhaps a few other surprises will be discovered from the wider context as we explore this text.

So? How shall we interpret what Jesus is saying about Divorce? and can we still find grace from the Gospel that will provide relief and hope for new life beyond our failed relationships?
Certainly it seems that, no one can undo the hurts that we lay on one another when it comes to the issues of divorce, and as we read these words from our Lord it seems that there is no explaining away that divorce is not supposed to happen according to God’s plan in creation. But let us think for a moment about God’s acts in creation. . .

From the Psalm we read this morning, Psalm 8, we heard of the wonderful works of God in Creating the moon and the stars, the sheep and the oxen and all the beasts of the field; the birds of the air and the fish of the sea – all things that have life and breath and even inanimate things -- God has made. But most curious of all: God has placed all of these living things and the resources of earth into our hands, into our keeping. God has entrusted us with great responsibility!
We hear this charge spelled out as the Psalmist expresses the great honor and the inestimately high degree of trust that God has dispensed on us: (note I have taken the liberty to use some inclusive language in the following re-reading of the psalm)
”What is [humankind] that you are mindful of us, our sons and our daughters that you should seek them out? You have made men and women but little lower than angels; you adorn us with glory and honor; you give your children mastery over the works of your hands; you put all things under our care and keeping . . .” (Psalm 8).

In this reading of the psalmist’s words we hear that God has entrusted us with the creation, with the keeping of all created things, who can bear this great responsibility? We can, with God’s direction and help! But What a Great Responsibility it is to be keepers of all creation!!

Interestingly, What a Great Responsibility we Have in Keeping One Another. . . Luther would be quick to point out that as a member of Christ’s church we have a responsibility to look after our brothers and sisters and married couples. We do this in order to Protect their relationships from any harm. The command is not just “Do Not” commit adultery . . . but to prevent and to eliminate any circumstance or words that might lead to hurting the family bond. And this matter of upholding and protecting Christian marriage is emphasized in our Lutheran marriage ceremony when we as a congregation, pledge to encourage and help the marital couple keep their vows and grow their love through the years to come. And it is to this responsibility–the ideal of Oneness in a marriage covenant, that Jesus’ expresses his concern that God’s intention for marriage is for a life long commitment.

Certainly in every marriage there are going to be testing times. Like when one marital partner wants to go out and the other would rather stay home. Or when the husband intends to drive his old truck forever, but the wise wife points out the impractical gas guzzler that it is, and that he should buy a nice used compact car that makes sense for the family . . . .

At times it seems that the very nature of being a man or a woman can cause us to repel away from one another. Jesus refers to the reasons that the Pharisees bring up for Divorce as representing their “hardness of heart”. This refers to the action of simply wanting to remarry for the sake of obtaining a more desirable partner.

We must also recognize that Jesus conversation with the Pharisees was speaking less about individual circumstances of divorce, such as any one of us might name as a reason that divorce is necessary: (such as) Physical or mental abuse by one spouse or the other. Or not caring for the children or alcohol or drug addictions or the many negative behaviors associated with these addictions, not mention the ill effects of pornography, adultery or any number of other possibilities.

In Mark’s Gospel narrative, we need to remember that Jesus’ “verbal sparring match” with the Pharisees, contained behind it a more dangerous circumstance for Jesus. What we need to keep in mind is what is going on in the background and foreground of Mark’s Gospel, where political and spiritual forces are constantly at work, causing Jesus to pause in his ministry in order to address various challenges to his authority. We must note that in the beginning of this text (though we did not read the first verse) -- Jesus is journeying into the region of Judea, beyond the Jordan. If we could trace Jesus’ path up to this point we would recognize that Jesus is traveling toward Jerusalem . . . Jesus is journeying towards his passion and the cross.

So When the Pharisees ask him about the issue of Divorce we know that they are attempting to entrap Jesus by the words he will use to answer this question. And so it comes to mind, Who else was “entrapped” by his words when he spoke about issues of marriage and divorce? Remember that “wild donkey of a man”, John the Baptist? Yes, the Pharisees see that if they can get Jesus moving down the same path as the Baptizer, then they will get Jesus in trouble with Herod who had married his brother’s wife after divorcing his own wife! The journey to faithfulness for Jesus is constantly endangered by such pit falls as the war of words with the Pharisees can hold – nevertheless, Jesus is moving toward Jerusalem and he carefully dispels the crafty questions of the Pharisees by quoting the truth of God’s words back to them.

So where does this leave us? Can we dismiss the condemnation we feel when we know we have not been able to uphold the “Oneness” that God intended when marriage was sanctioned by the coming together of a man and a woman in a covenant relationship? No, we cannot dismiss this ideal. For as Jesus said, “The two shall become one flesh . . . they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

But instead of feeling overwhelmed by our inability to uphold Jesus’ command, is it possible for us to “celebrate” the strength of God’s resolve that marriage is the highest standard of human relationships? Can we see Jesus’ strong admonition in upholding the bonds of marriage as a kind of protective blessing? Perhaps, moving away from guilt and beyond the realities of our failed relationships, we can give thanks that the will of God is that a man and a woman find completeness in one another, and that in spite of human frailty and sin, the ideal remains . . . two people covenant with one another to remain together in faithfulness – this is honorable and this is part of the Great Responsibility that we spoke of coming from the words of the psalmist.

And so we must hold this passage for what it is, Jesus speaks a strong word about the value and importance of remaining faithful to the marriage covenant. Note that Jesus was not asked what should take place if one spouse abuses the other in some harmful way, nor does he address the complicated family patterns and behaviors that can become destructive factors in our marriages. But I think that we do get the message that divorce for fleshly reasons, such as merely looking for a better partner, or because of a shrewd political alliance, such as was practiced in the days of Kings and Queens . . This kind of divorce reasoning is as Jesus said, “because of hardness of hearts.”

While on a camping trip in New England many years ago, I remember meeting a man who was living alone in a small camper trailer. We got to talking as he was doing his laundry in the campground laundry mat. Eventually the conversation came around to talking about his life and I asked him, “how did you wind up living in this campground with seemingly nothing and nobody else active in your life?” After breathing a deep sigh, he explained, “I met my wife when I was about your age, that was back in “42". We met at the town roller skating rink, and it was love at first sight. Together we Danced and skated in contests and traveled around to many places – winning awards for our couples’ skating.” So what happened to your wife? I asked, genuinely interested in his story. He hung his head and said, “After 40 years of marriage I just lost interest, we were finished, we just didn’t love each other anymore, and I left.”

His story sounded incredibly sad to me. Up to this time, Divorce had not been a part of my immediate growing up experience -- not that everything was always “perfect” in our household. Yet I wondered, “how could a couple just break up after having so many years together?” . . . . I need not answer this question, because each one of us has witnessed or experienced the heartbreaking realities of actions and words that cause marriages to not work out.

So where is the grace?? How can we live honestly with ourselves in sincerity of Faith, even with the knowledge that we are divorced whether actually or in some cases implicitly – can there be healing, forgiveness or even newness of life? I think the Gospel says Yes, and we need look no farther than the next few verses of Mark’s Gospel where Jesus is scooping up the little children and holding them in his arms.

The message of Jesus comes down to us when he says, "’Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 10:15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ 10:16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.”

Divorce need not be the end of our living in what can be a joy-filled loving relationship. What seems more important to take from Jesus teaching is that Marriage is God’s plan, it is honorable and GOOD, and to be desired. If we are going to suffer and agonize about our condition – then let us turn that pain into the drive to learn about our circumstances and about ourselves and how we might become more aware of who we are and who the other person is that we recognize in our relationships. What I am saying here is that we need to be honest with ourselves. If you have gone through a divorce or know others who have then it may be good and appropriate to take some practical steps toward getting help in order to heal the emotional scars and to redevelop the inner person. This kind of help is available through books, programs or by seeking counsel, (just ask Dr. Phil!) But seriously, in order that we will not fall into repeating old patterns of behavior or seeking out a partner who has the same behaviors that will cause disharmony in the next relationship -- we need to learn from our brokenness, we need to mend our ways.

Above all, remember that whether single or divorced in marriage or not married at all. We are each children of God, children entrusted with the care of many things. And we are each NEW BEINGS fully loved by God, washed clean by the blood of Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to go on in life as God’s Children, continually being formed into the likeness of Jesus Christ. Amen

Let us pray, Eternal God, in our humanness we are frail beings who sometimes hurt one another even when we have pledged to love and cherish. Our sinful actions can cause physical and emotional pain to our spouses and children and to our communities. Help us dear God to overcome anger, discord and fear – Help us to receive your Words of forgiveness. Give us a freshness of heart to love, to love always.


Read more writings of Pastor Jon