20th Sunday after Pentecost Year B
A couple of weeks ago, I warned you that this was going to happen with Jesus’ disciples. I told you what was coming, but you may not remember it, or maybe you weren’t here that Sunday, or were distracted during the homily and didn’t hear it. I know, sometimes I get distracted too!
Some of the disciples were arguing about who were the greatest among them and who would be Jesus’ lieutenants in the his new kingdom:
“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
So today we read that people were bringing little children to Jesus so that he might touch them, the same way you see people bringing their kids close to the Pope for a blessing, or the way politicians kiss babies. But Jesus’ disciples had forgotten, maybe like you have, that Jesus taught them that whoever welcomes a child in Jesus’ name, welcomes Jesus, and even more than that welcomes God!
So you may think this morning that the Grace Children’s Choir School is leading our music, but according to Jesus, those kids in the back have actually brought God with them this morning. So on behalf of all of us adults who are trying to figure out who is the greatest among us, welcome children and thank you for being here! Please continue to show us how to receive the Kingdom of God.
Before Jesus chastises his disciples about keeping the children away from him, some Pharisees had approached Jesus in order to test him. They almost always did this kind of questioning of Jesus in public so as to elicit the greatest response from the crowd. And they almost always asked Jesus a “no win” question, one that no matter how he answers would make him look bad or at least would turn the crowds against him.
Today’s reading is no exception. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” To which Jesus responds with a question of his own, which was also his usual practice, “What did Moses command you?” Of course the Pharisees were experts at knowing “The Law,” the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, also known as the books of Moses. So they refer to Deuteronomy 24 where Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal to divorce his wife.
The law which was given to Moses by God allowed a man to divorce his wife by simply writing a certificate of divorce, but Jesus appeals to God’s intention in the creation story. Jesus wants to point us beyond our current condition and the way of the world to God’s dream for us or what Jesus calls the Kingdom of God.
It is also important to note that in Jesus’ day, it was only the prerogative of the man to issue a certificate of divorce and not the woman. So Jesus’ injunction here is also to serve as a notice to the men who controlled all the power in ending a marriage because of their hardness of heart, that they should take more seriously God’s original intent. Scholars tell us that divorce in Jesus’ day was almost as prevalent as it is in our own.
Divorce is a byproduct of our brokenness and the brokenness of the world. God allows for divorce in God’s law, but God’s intent is wholeness and human flourishing in every relationship. Even though that is not where the human family finds itself in every age, we are to work and pray towards that end of a peaceable community where we find fidelity and forgiveness in the midst of our faults and offenses.
When two people are married in the church and take their vows before God and the community of faith, we also take a vow to uphold these two people in their covenant of marriage, to pray for and support them in whatever way we can. And just like in our own personal lives when we fail to live up to God’s intention, there is opportunity for repentance and restoration.
So where does that leave our brothers and sisters who have been divorced and those of us who are remarried. Jesus said in another gospel story to the men who brought to Jesus the woman caught in adultery, “those without sin cast the first stone.” And after the men had left, Jesus asked her, “Who condemns you now? And she responds, “No one.” To which Jesus says, “Neither do I, go and sin no more.” That is the good news. As we continually turn our hearts toward God and God’s intention for us, God empowers us to live new lives in Jesus Christ.