October 3, 2021
There are times when we are assigned a text for Sundays where we struggle and wonder what the heck the Bible is attempting to say. This Sunday’s gospel lesson is one of those texts. It is disturbing because each one of us can most likely share a story of divorce or separation. People have been hurt from the rigid views the church regarding divorce.
This gospel lesson comes up every three years in our lectionary and I will admit, I usually attempt to steer clear of it and choose one of the other texts to preach from. Where do we find any grace in such a text? I think that is part of the reason the scholars chose to include the second part of the passage about Jesus welcoming and blessing the little children. Jesus welcomes and blesses each one of us. In this promise we cannot be separated from the love of God.
My family is no stranger to divorce, and the hurt caused by the church. My grandmother divorced around the time my mother was born and was excommunicated from the Catholic Church because of it. We should not be surprised when people choose to leave institutional religion when there is a lack of love and support. My parents have both been divorced and I give thanks for it, because if they hadn’t, I would not be here today. Whether you have experienced it yourself or know someone who has, it affects all of us.
Of course, divorce can be ugly and difficult. However, it is not divorce specifically that Jesus is calling out in this teaching. We have to be aware of what marriage was like in Jesus’ time. For the wealthy and those in authority, marriage was not about love most of the time. It was a legal contract by two families with the goal of bringing resources together. This is how you grew your fortune and empire. This is how you became successful. Jesus would have been familiar with King Herod divorcing his wife Phasaelis just so he could marry Herodias. Marriage was patriarchal, much like everything else at that time. The man had complete control and if he chose, he could divorce and remarry as many times as he liked as long as he wrote the certificate in which Moses instructed in Deuteronomy. Love was often not a factor.
Since marriage was patriarchal, it also meant women had very little power in the relationship. When a husband decided he wanted a divorce and provided the certificate, quite often the woman would find herself in poverty and beggin in the streets. She would have nothing to her name. This is the hardness of heart in which Jesus refers. Here, there is little concern or love for your fellow human. Jesus was once again protecting those who did not have any power. Where God’s purpose of creation was for connection, the people of God allow the broken nature of humanity to get in the way.
Jesus follows up his discussion on divorce with a wide welcome. A welcome for the children to come to him so that he can bless them. Once again, a child was not to be bothered with in Jesus’ time because they did not have any authority. Women and children had close to the same standing in society. Jesus’ mission was to bring everyone to the same level of equality through justice.
There is a book by Herbert Anderson and Robert Cotton Fite, titled Becoming Married. Their premise is that “marriage” does not immediately happen at the ceremony or in the signing of the license. “Marriage” is something that happens over time and hopefully continues to happen the longer you are together. Jesus speaks of the two “becoming one.” There is not a distinct time we can point to when this happens either. The two “becoming one” begins to happen before the wedding and continues after it. A couple continues to work on and progress in “becoming one.” If a couple does not “become one,” it can result in separation.
The apostle Paul reminds us in Galatians, “Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian,for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (3:24-28) Jesus welcomes everyone, and it does not matter where you are, who you are, broken or whole.
By Jesus following up his conversation about marriage with a blessing of the children, we learn much. Listening to his welcome, we have the knowledge of his previous words in our mind. Through his welcome, he is telling us, whether we have succeeded or failed in marriage does not make us rejected children. We are still loved, welcomed, and blessed by God. And the wonderful thing is that no human can take that away from us.
We are one in Christ. These words written by the Apostle Paul is a beacon of hope. In our humanness, we are one in Christ. In our hardened hearts, we are one in Christ. Regardless of who we are, the color our skin, who we love, we are one in Christ. God’s intention is for us to be drawn together in healthy relationship. Sometimes we find ourselves in unhealthy relationships and we are reminded of God’s intention and must step away. However, when you are drawn to another person and there is genuine love, Jesus tells us to let no one separate that relationship. As we are one in Christ, we become one with the other. Jesus welcomes us all, and in that welcome, we become one in our faith. We live out our faith with one another as we love. May no one separate you from that love.