Gospel lesson and Pastor Richard Pokora’s sermon from Sunday, October 3, 2021
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son Our Lord Jesus Christ.
In our Gospel for this Sunday Jesus is on move. He walks down from the mount of transfiguration, and takes his disciples on a walk through Galilee to teach them privately about his coming death and resurrection.
This is the last time Jesus will travel with his disciples to Jerusalem. He knows this, even if they don’t. So Jesus is takes the opportunity to teach some hard lessons. And before they’ve even made it all the way around the Sea of Galilee, the Pharisees show up to put Jesus to the test.
Whoever you are, you’ve probably experienced being broken at some point in your life. And whoever you are, Jesus wants you to experience being blessed.
First, we have to deal with brokenness. The Pharisees put Jesus to The Test: is it lawful to divorce? Jesus knows it’s a trap. Their question assumes that divorce happens, but is it ever justified? The Pharisees are trying to catch him saying something they can use against him, but he doesn’t blink.
You already know the “lawful” answer, he says, but keep in mind that the Law was given to Moses because of your hard hearts. God’s intention is always for “oneness” and since Creation, God has intended for husband and wife to live as one flesh.
Jesus completely reframes the question: instead of talking about grounds for divorce, we should be thinking about the grounds for marriage. Marriage can be seen as a model for our relationship with God – Just as a married couple becomes one with each other, God offers us at-one-ment – atonement. It’s about as close as any of us will ever come to experiencing the interrelationship of the Triune God.
This teaching isn’t really about divorce; it’s about God’s desire for wholeness. Jesus uses the Pharisees’ test as an illustration of the way hardened hearts distort God’s intention for all human relationships, but particularly marriage.
Jesus expands on the difference between what God intends and human hard-heartedness by addressing the rights of a woman –which was unheard-of in that time and place. When Jesus compares remarriage after divorce to committing adultery, we might be struck by the severity of such a judgment.
But the real shock is that it applies to both husbands and wives. This was a radical claim in first century Jewish culture, where wives were little more than the property of their husbands. By Jewish law, there was no provision for a woman to divorce her husband. By saying that, “if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery,” Jesus is actually placing women on an even legal footing with men.
Jesus reminds the Pharisees of God’s first intention for marriage by quoting Genesis 2:24 – “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. “ Being one flesh means full equality and full commitment.
Sometimes divorce is necessary because of the harm hardened hearts can cause. Hard hearts can make it impossible for two people to stay together without hurting each other. Abusive relationships have no place in God’s design. A marriage in which one partner exerts power over the other is not healthy “one-ness,” but brokenness.
Jesus is not urging anyone to remain in a relationship that threatens safety or health. Sometimes, a marriage becomes irretrievably broken. But that was never what God intended. God intended for husbands and wives to be one flesh.
But you have been changed by this embrace. Neither of you can ever be the same again, having welcomed the other into yourselves.
This transformation, this change of self, is exactly what Jesus did on the cross for us. He opened his arms, welcoming our sinfulness into his own perfection. As we accept that welcome, and step into Christ’s embrace, we are changed. But Jesus does not hold us against our will. Instead, he releases us back into the world, so that, having received blessing, we might bless others.
This is exactly what Jesus means when he says we must receive the Kingdom as a little child. Now, the Greek is ambiguous here. It could mean receiving the Kingdom as if you were a child, trusting completely in God’s grace and making ourselves as vulnerable as a child. That’s usually how I think of this phrase.
But it could also mean receiving the kingdom as you would receive a child – and contrary to Jewish tradition that placed no value on children, Jesus receives children with open arms. No matter which way you read it, trust and vulnerability form the foundation for receiving the kingdom of God, just as trust and vulnerability form the foundation for marriage.
We encounter the theme of children – not a topic of common conversation in first century Palestine. Children weren’t even considered to be ‘people’ yet, and they had absolutely no rights. Yet Jesus takes them in his arms and tells his disciples, “Whoever welcomes a child like this in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me also welcomes the one who sent me.” (9:37) He goes on to say that anyone who puts a stumbling block before a child would be better off thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck. (9:42).
Notice how Jesus embraces the children in verse 16. Mark writes, “He took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.” Do you see how this parallels the actions we repeat each time we receive Communion? Jesus takes the bread and cup, holds it as he gives thanks, and blesses both bread and cup before …. giving them to his disciples. In the same way, Christ gives us, his children, to the world., and says, “unless you receive the Kingdom as a little child, you won’t enter it.”
The great theme in our Gospel is a challenge to be open to what God intends to do through Jesus Christ. He challenges us to be open to the kingdom of God in our lives. Let God work in our married life. Receive the kingdom of God as a child is open to God.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your minds and hearts in Christ Jesus.