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Reflections on the Gospel, Week before October 7th

Mark 10:2-16

 2Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 5But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

10Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

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

What I am Learning:

Jesus' comments on divorce are intended to change a culture very different from our own. Today women and men both have the capacity to divorce each other. Today women and men both can find jobs and health care and have equal standing under the law (well, for the most part anyway).

In Jesus' day, women did not have equal standing with men. Women were sent off to arranged marriages as a part of bargaining between families. If a man were to become displeased with his wife, he could, according to Deuteronomy 24, hand her a bill of divorce. She would then go back to her family until another marriage could be arranged. But at that point she was "damaged goods." She could even be cast off from her family and be essentially made homeless. Jesus is confronting a practice of exploitation of women.

The whole teaching in Deuteronomy and the culture in the ancient middle east is to protect the procreative rights of the male. In the Hebrew Scripture and culture, if a man had sex with a divorced woman he committed adultery against her husband. We talk about about "adultery with" someone. They talked about "adultery against" the male—that is threatening the procreative rights of the husband. Jesus challenged this norm. He said that a man can commit adultery against a woman. This was crazy talk to first century people. It went against centuries of Middle Eastern culture. He moves to give women equal rights and standing with men.

In his rejection of divorce, he is taking the side of the people with the least power - women.

He does the same with the children who also had no honor or status in the first century. In fact, he says that whoever wishes to maintain their status cannot enter into the Reign of God. As in the last two readings, Jesus is saying that the human desire for status over others has no place among his disciples.

The upshot of this text is God opposes laws or cultures that make some people inherently more important or powerful than others—even when these laws or cultures are old or traditional. I believe that if Jesus were here today, he would stand with migrant farm workers, undocumented immigrants, and gay, lesbian, transgendered, or bisexual people to name a few.

This is not because myself and other Christians have given up values. It is because we share Jesus' value of respecting all people and maintaining equal standing for all people.

For more (a lot more) see my video: