Divorce & Children Are Not The Trap
Off the bat there is a lot going on in our scripture reading this morning. Jesus is addressing two topics in three scenes over the course of 15 verses. Two topics, divorce and children, that are an odd pairing and yet the Gospel writer chose to put to two together. This would have been a lot to take in back then but its even more to take in when the events are distilled down to a few verses and we read them 2000 years later.
The Pharisees, again, are trying to trap Jesus. And you might be thinking, a trap, how on earth would a discussion on divorce be a trap? A few chapters earlier King Herod had John the Baptist killed, Mark 6, because John spoke about against Herod’s marriage. Speaking against the King is dangerous business. The Pharisees were political supporters for Herod, so the trap they lay for Jesus is simple: get Jesus to say something, really say anything, about divorce that will antagonize Herod so that Herod will have Jesus killed just as Herod did to John. It’s a trap.
Jesus answers the question of the Pharisees’ with a question on his own, “What did Moses command.” It irritates me to no end when people do this to me, but I have found that this happens most often when the person I’ve asked a question of knows that I know the answer.
The Pharisees quote Deuteronomy 24:
“so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house and goes off to become another man’s wife.”
When you read Deuteronomy 24 you will notice a few things. First, the text itself seems like it is intended to protect the woman, ensuring that she is not charged with adultery in a time where that charge was punishable by death. But if we take a closer look at the what the Pharisees quoted we see it is a practical application to the issue of divorce. Jesus asked what Moses said on the topic and the Pharisees come back with what they are to do in the day-to-day scenarios that play out.
Jesus goes a step further on the matter. While the Pharisees are concerned with what they are to do in the scenario, Jesus goes back, way back to Genesis 1 and 2, looking at what G-d’s intention was for marriage. So while Jesus did ask the Pharisees what Moses said on the topic, He was messing with the Pharisees Himself because He chooses another text to look at. When Jesus quotes Genesis he is placing scripture against scripture. He is placing what G-d has said on the matter in Genesis against what Moses said on the matter in Deuteronomy. Jesus wants to talk about what G-d says on the subject after the Pharisees wanted to talk about what we, humans, have to say on the matter.
And again, the disciples did not understand what Jesus was saying, asking him again to explain what he had said to the Pharisees, this time using language of adultery. And this is the point in the reading where I begin scratching my head and I know many of you do as well.
The disciples and the Pharisees were asking a different question than the one Jesus was answering. The disciples and the Pharisees were asking a question of an earthly matter and Jesus was answering the question of an earthly matter on from a divine point of view. But Jesus does not offer any further explanation and we move onto another scene.
The third scene in this reading is a favorite among people who believe that children are not the church of tomorrow but rather are the church of today. Just last year I preached on this story but instead of Mark’s gospel it was from Luke’s gospel. Jesus says, “let the children come to me.” And that is usually where we stop, because we read this text with our own human agenda, we miss out of the implications associated with the Kingdom of G-d. Jesus did not only say “let the children come to me.” He followed by saying, “Do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
The Kingdom of G-d belongs to them? To children?
There are times when each of us are confronted by similar traps to one the Pharisees posed to Jesus. While the trap may not be intended to cause us to be killed theological and spiritual harm can come our way if we are not aware of what’s happening. These questions come in the form of, “But you know, the Bible says…”
The Bible says this about that or it doesn’t say anything on the matter. The “But you know, the Bible says…” trap catches us off guard and we frantically begin trying to recall something from scripture to offer as a counter argument to the trap in front of us.
More often than not though, just like the trap set before Jesus, these “But you know, the Bible says…” traps are never about divorce or the whatever the debate of the day appears to be. The question always boils down to, does your vision of the Kingdom of G-d align with mine. Does what I read in scripture about G-d match what you’ve read and if it does not what I can do to make you see the error of your way?
For the Pharisees to show Jesus the error of his way, they were willing to have him killed but for us today while we may not be talking about life and death we are talking about the exclusion of people from our community, a community formed in and by G-d. We are not talking about having people killed by a jealous king but we are talking about using scripture to knock the spiritual life out of someone.
In the two topics in three scenes over the course of 15 verses while the topics reflect specific scenarios, divorce and children, Jesus is addressing something even bigger. Jesus is teaching about establishing a firmer foundation for our community. The questions presented to Jesus are questions of humans and in both of his responses he is looking to what the will of G-d is for us, even when we have our human blinders up and cannot fully see what G-d is doing.
The Pharisees were presenting Jesus with questions of the Law, a law that was intended for promote a patriarchal society so when we look at the details of what they quoted from Moses back to Jesus we see that while a certificate of divorce looks like it benefits the woman at the same time, during this time, only a man could file for divorce. Jesus’ words were a threat to the patriarchal system in place as His words, quoting Genesis 1 and 2, reminded the Pharisees and those listening in that the Kingdom of G-d is bigger than what we can imagine. The Kingdom of G-d includes those we say are excluded from it when we say things like “But you know, the Bible says…”
Quoting Genesis instead of echoing Deuteronomy, Jesus told the Pharisees that the Kingdom of G-d, G-d’s disruptive reign, will empower those previously without power. Social structures designed to keep people groups in their place will be disrupted. This point is driven home further when Jesus double-down, using children, a segment of the population viewed as property, to illustrate what kind of dependency, reliance on G-d, will be necessary to be apart of the Kingdom building work Jesus has begun in his own ministry.
Jesus told the disciples and the scriptures remind us today that in the Kingdom of G-d there is a greater equality and hospitality for those who are most oppressed. Not seeing or understanding this is a trap we all fall into, because while Jesus is talking about equality, inclusion, and humility, the Pharisees, we, continue to think that the Kingdom of G-d is about us. Childlike dependance on G-d relieves us from debating the finer points of the law and instead invites us to step into the grace of G-d made known to us by Christ who extends the same invitation despite how many times we step into a trap set by someone else or how many times we set the trap.