Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost 2015

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost | Mark 10: 1-16


Some days Jesus can be difficult to understand. Today, however, is not one of those days. The trick-question of the Pharisees was insincere, but Jesus’ answer was not. They asked Him: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” “Sure!” says Jesus. “Don’t you know that in Massachusetts, they have no-fault divorce? No-fault, no foul, no big deal. Just write a certificate, and it’s a done-deal.” You can add that to the long running list of things Jesus never said.

What gets Jesus so upset is not that the Pharisees were trying to trap Him; He’s used to that. What gets Jesus so upset is that they don’t even know what they’re asking. They are confusing the world they live in with the world God created. Moses had to address hard-hearted, selfish men, who were going to put away their wives one way or another. Moses had to find a way to protect the victims; namely, the women – hence the certificate. And in a manner all too predictable in a fallen creation, the Pharisees have taken that measure as permission to divorce.

Jesus thinks differently. He brings them back to the very beginning, when He made man and woman and marriage. He wants them to see that divorce is so awful and hurtful because it is part of the beauty of His creation. And even more than that, marriage is, and was always supposed to be, an image of Jesus’ relationship to His Church. He’s the bridegroom. She’s the bride. That’s the picture. That’s the way it is supposed to be. Which is why anything that damages that image is so hurtful to Him- because marriage is not firstly about you, but about Jesus and His Bride.

Yes, Jesus knows that ever since we left the garden, marriage has not been easy. He knows that in a sinful world relationships between spouses are so very much like the relationship between Jesus and us: it is strained.

That strain comes out in all sorts of ways: “I didn’t like him or her as much as I thought.” “I just wasn’t feeling fulfilled.” “I think all of my personal needs weren’t being met the way I expected.” “I just felt like he wasn’t listening.”

There’s no small coincidence that the excuses people give for ending their marriages are the same excuses I hear for why people stop coming to church. And Jesus is really done hearing the excuses.  They are self-serving, and capricious, and foreign to the world He created. But, remember that Jesus is first of all merciful, and so He wants very much to bandage up those wounds, too.

Jesus can. And Jesus does. On the day of His own nuptials, He walked down the aisle to be wed to His Bride. He marched faithfully to the altar of Golgotha, bearing His cross, as His Bride mocked Him, and spit on Him, and beat Him.

I’m sure Jesus was not feeling happy, or fulfilled, or like they had been listening. But He went on anyways, loving His Bride in exactly the way she needed, with Blood and with Sacrifice. Finally, the Pharisees would have their answer. No. It is not lawful for a man to divorce His wife. He is to give himself for his wife.

But He doesn’t give them the whole dose of all that just then. Certainly, they weren’t ready for that. Instead, as St. Mark records for us today, Jesus picks up a little kid and says: “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of God.” First Marriage, then children. Makes sense.

But for all you life-long Lutherans, this verse is more than a proof-text for Infant Baptism. For Jesus, the children are pictures of faithfulness; because children believe what you tell them. And adultery is a sin they haven’t quite gotten the hang of. They’ll need to be taught that one as they grow up.

If you’d like any evidence of that, I’d point you to the last year in news. It was a year that saw Christian children pulled away from their parents, shot, hung, beheaded, and piled in mass graves. It didn’t have to be that way. One thing that groups like ISIS have been happy to let us see is their victims’ confessions of faith. Many of those kids were offered a free pass. “Deny Jesus, and live. Break your marriage vows, and run away with us.”

And, just as He promised, Jesus put the right words in their mouths: “Let the little children come to me…for to such belongs the Kingdom of God.”

Don’t worry. I’m sure you will get your chance to say thank you to them for their witness to marriage, for their witness to Jesus and His Church. I’m sure that one day, you’ll recognize them:

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. (1 Corinthians 15:42-43)

In the new creation, those children who lost their heads will keep their scars, and wear them around their necks like golden chains. And little schoolgirls shot in class will have honorary doctorates, for showing us how to live, and how to die.

You’ll have your chance to thank them. But they’ll likely just say that they were only able to do it because of what Jesus first did for them. In His Holy Incarnation, He left His Father to take on our Flesh. He left His mother to seek out His bride. He joined Himself to us on the Cross, in the tomb, and in our Baptism.  There you are forgiven, loved, cherished, made faithful and joined in one flesh to Christ. What God has joined together, let not man separate.

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