Helplessly, in Love / Mark 10:2–16 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday October 3rd 2021 / Season Of Pentecost / Mount Olive Lutheran Church
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday October 2nd 2021: Season of Pentecost / Mark 10:2–16 (This Sermon also references the Old Testament Reading for the Day: Genesis 2:18-25) “Helplessly, in Love”
“Pharisees came up and in order to test [Jesus] 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 send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast 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 separate.”
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 [Jesus] 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 on them.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all are hearts be acceptable in your sight O, Lord. Amen.
Grace, peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Good Christian friends. Listening to the Gospel reading today you may expect that this sermon will focus entirely on marriage and divorce – we will certainly look at those two things, but when you get right down to it, it’s truly about the nature of God’s love for you.
This is why we want to highlight one particular verse as we begin, this is the one where Jesus says “Let the children come to Me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” These words are the key, they are the key that opens the door to understanding this whole passage: the door through which the Good News of God’s Word comes to us. Keep these words, which are so familiar to baptism, in mind as you listen because this verse will also be the destination that our readings bring us to in the end.
In the first century, there were two prominent schools of Pharisees, the Hillel School and the Shammai School. And when it came to the question of divorce both parties focused in on the very beginning of chapter 24 of the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy but they came out on two different sides of the passage in their interpretation. The Hillel School of Pharisees were very lax and thought divorce to be a matter of choice, a simple affair, that marriage could be dissolved for many reasons both big and small. The Shammia School was very strict and only permitted divorce in the case of infidelity. Why am I telling you this? Well, our passage from the Gospel of Saint Mark starts with the Pharisees asking Jesus a question to test Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” And while they certainly wanted an answer what they were in fact trying to do was to pin Jesus down. They wanted to see what side of the ongoing argument Jesus was favorable too and if He hadn’t picked a side yet they want to have Jesus publicly pick a side in their public dispute about divorce.
But Jesus, as we have witnessed over and over again, is too cleaver for them, Jesus is too concerned with the truth and with God’s will for His people to be pulled into their squabble. So Jesus, knowing that they will answer Him by quoting Moses from Deuteronomy chapter 24 asks them, “What did Moses command you?” And sure enough they say, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” That is a quote directly from Deuteronomy chapter 24 and importantly this is how they did divorces in Israel back in those days. And with the influence of Greek culture women could issue these divorces too. Imagine getting home one day and finding a note on the kitchen table saying “I am divorcing you, you are free to go away, please” and that is it, you have no say – you don’t even have to sign it, it is instantly legal. No court, no lawyer, no nothing … just go away.
But here is the big twist in our reading today. When Jesus says, “What did Moses command you?” while He knows they will bring up Deuteronomy chapter 24, that isn't the answer that He is hoping for from them, it’s not the answer Jesus is fishing for. You see, Moses didn’t just write Deuteronomy, Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and this also includes the Book of Genesis. And the Book of Genesis is the spot that Jesus goes back to, Deuteronomy doesn’t stand alone, Scripture interprets Scripture and here you see Jesus doing Jesus that. Jesus is bringing them the whole council of God not a text in isolation twisted by the culture and sinful desires of the day. Now remember it isn't that Genesis is somehow better than Deuteronomy, rather it’s that Jesus knows that these well meaning yet confused Pharisees are barking up the wrong tree with their question, that they aren’t seeing the whole forest for the tree right in front of them. This is why we have these two readings together this morning, the one from Mark and the one from Genesis so we can better see what is in front of us.
When it comes to divorce Jesus wants to flip the conversation back to marriage. Not because He is trying to avoid the topic of divorce but because He wants to refocus the people. They had lost track of what marriage was intended to be. They lost track of what a special gift marriage is. What a special gift from God marriage originally was, even right back from the very beginning.
This happens a lot in our culture today, or at least the part where people have lost track of the special nature of this gift. Now, like then, people get into the lax sort of Hillel School understanding of marriage where divorce can come on the heels of displeasure or discomfort. Such divorces can be commonly called “no fault” divorces; you could also call them the “I’m not in the mood anymore, divorce”, or the “you’ve lost that lov’n feelin’ style divorce,” or the “I’m not happy anymore and I deserve to be happy divorce.” Social attitudes about marriage and divorce shift with time. And within our own culture in Canada we can say that in the last 100 years or more marriage has in some ways lost its place in society, the high place it used to hold. Co-habitation and common-law relationships are more prevalent, divorce is more frequent and as I said the reasons for divorce are more diverse. What makes a marriage has been called into question. Sadly many in the World have lost sight of what marriage is supposed to be and have gotten caught up in bickering about it, and working to change laws along with the hearts and minds of people away from traditional marriage. This is why what Jesus says in response to the Pharisees in the first century is still applicable to us now, we like they need to focus on the gift that marriage is and not on all the “what ifs” and selfish notions about what marriage could be or has become.
One thing to remember here is that we aren’t talking about divorces which come as a result of abuse, endangerment, or abandonment … let me say this one more time and listen carefully “we are not talking about divorces which come as a result of abuse, endangerment, or abandonment,” but rather divorces that come out of laziness, boredom, poor communication, and or weakness in fulfilling the marital vows. The Pharisees following the Hillel school of thought were looking for Jesus to say something like: “A man can divorce his wife if she nags him all the time, or a woman can divorce her husband if he leaves his sock on the floor and never makes the bed.” But Jesus won’t have any of it and He says that they have a “hardness of heart.” Jesus points them all back to Genesis, He points both the Hillel and Shammai Pharisees back to the glory of the gift to help make better sense of the troubleshooting portion of the legislative law from Deuteronomy.
Year ago I looked at the passage from the book of Genesis, which is our Old Testament reading this morning, with some couples getting married along with some people who were all ready married. And to set this up, there were two questions. The first was a question about whether man had to work in the garden before the fall, the answer was yes he did, just before our reading this morning Genesis says, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” The second question, in this line of thinking, was “what was man’s problem” the answer was supposed to be that he was alone, because that is what God says in our Old Testament reading today but because of the first question about working in the garden someone gave a different answer. Remember everyone in the class is either married or getting married. One of the men answered really quickly, the sort of answer only a man could give. When asked: “what man’s problem was,” he piped up and said “he had no employees.” – You know, to work in the garden. Everyone had a good laugh, but in truth sometimes people do end up having this sort of view of marriage: one person works to “bring home the bacon” the other works to govern the house and the household; and everyone is working for someone. Everyone is an employee or at least everyone can start to feel that way. While marriage includes work it’s not intended to be an employee boss kind of relationship.
When Moses writes that “for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him” or “no suitable helper could be found for man.” he wasn’t talking about an employee or a worker. The Hebrew there is interesting the word that makes up this phrase is best translated as “a helper like opposite him.” A helper like opposite him. One who was to be complimentary, not by nature subordinate, not a worker or an employee of man but one who would be complimentary where the two parts make the whole, where the two create a union greater than the sum of its parts.
Jesus, in the first century, faced a culture where a husband giving a certificate of divorce had almost become like firing an employee, and Jesus wanted people to remember what marriage really was intended to be. This is why He flips it from a conversation about divorce to a conversation about marriage.
So how does Jesus saying “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God,” fit into all of this? Maybe this has been you or perhaps you’ve felt this way or know someone who has been hopelessly in love? Allow me a little word play here let’s take hopelessly in love and change it to helplessly in love: in the ancient world children were utterly helpless and depended on the protection, love and care of their parents in order to survive. To a certain extent this is still true today, however in Greek culture it was much harsher it was not uncommon for unwanted babies to be left out on the hard ground to face the elements alone. The Greeks believed that fait would determine the outcome of the child's life or death. This is a far cry from “kids helpline” phone numbers, GPS monitoring systems, car seats and regulations against lead paint in toy manufacturing. We have our own harshness too where unwanted babies are aborted never even given a chance to survive. Our world is very two minded in this regard. To a varying degree we are all helpless regardless of age some more helpless than others, this is why Mark puts these two accounts together: Jesus pointing back to Genesis regarding the formation of Eve and the creation of marriage and the children being brought to Jesus, both help highlight this.
Both Adam in Genesis and the little children in Mark’s Gospel are helpless. Completely, helpless. Without the work of God on their behalf they would in no way be able to solve their problem. Man could not have created woman for himself, even if Adam had been able to take out his rib what would he have been able to do with it? And a little baby left lying on the hard ground alone could not care for itself. It would die of exposure if no one rescued it.
We are like this when it comes to our sin. We are helpless to save ourselves. If it were up to us we would be lost. But by the grace of God, our heavenly Father, who loves us dearly, as His creation, as His children, does not leave us to fend for ourselves. He sends His Son Jesus to save you, to pick you up off of the hard ground of sin and to love you: to save you from the impossible task before you. Jesus did this for you on the cross where He took the punishment, that under the law, you were intended to take on yourself. Because of this you have forgiveness in Him, forgiveness in Christ Jesus your Lord.
In Christian Marriage the man and woman receive the blessing of God on their union and the promise that He will be there with them with forgiveness for all the times things go wrong, for all the times we become selfish and act without thinking or considering our spouse for all the times we are left helplessly unable to care for ourselves as a couple. This passage today reminds us of that as children and as married couples. It is a true gift to be taken care of and it is a true gift to be able to take care of others physically, mentally and spiritually – providing a home, companionship and forgiveness in the good and bad times.
Later this month we will remember the Lutheran Reformation and we will celebrate the rediscovery of this love of God for us, and today's group of readings from Scripture foreshadow this, they point forward. Because, for many years, before the Reformation, people were lead to believe that they had to work for their own salvation, like employees. Man and woman both, who have always been helpless in this area apart from God, apart from Jesus, spent much of their lives in fear of being fired: living in fear that God would just hand them a spiritual certificate of divorce: in fear that they would never see heaven without a lifetime of hard work on their part. But this is not how God deals with us, and Jesus desired to point this fact out to the Pharisees, God is not “hard hearted” with us, He isn’t looking for every excuse to fire us, to divorce us out of His life – He loves us; and Saint Mark in his Gospel wanted to point this fact out to all Christians.
We are likewise fortunate in our day to know the true nature of God’s love for us. We for our part are the “helpless” ones and God for the sake of Christ Jesus is the one who helps and cares for us in our needs providing a picture of how we are to care, provide and love each other in marriage, within a family. The World may be confused about all of this, they may have different ideas about these things, as Christians we can live in the peace of Christ Jesus regardless of what comes our way, even divorce, but do not let the abuse of a thing in our culture diminish the gift. Continue to hold traditional marriage in high regard and encourage those who should be married to be married and support them in their married life, for in it there is much forgiveness and when viewed rightly a picture of the nature of God’s love for you. Amen.
Let us pray: Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.”
 Mark 10:14
 Deuteronomy 24:1-4, “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favour in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man's wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.
 Genesis 2:15
 Genesis 2:18
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