Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Mark 10:2–16 2And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” 5 And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he 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.” 13 And they werebringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 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. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that something has gone badly wrong in our society with regard to family and marriage. Why are we having a lively debate about the definition of marriage? Why do so many younger (and older!) people choose to live together rather than to make a commitment and seek God’s blessing in marriage? Why is pornography one of the biggest industries in the world? Why do we treat children in the womb as either “a person” or “not a person” depending on whether or not the mom wishes to bring the child to term? How have we reached the point where casual sexual relations have become widely regarded as a recreational activity to be enjoyed whenever and wherever you can find two (or more) willing and consenting adults? How has this casual approach to sex spread down even into our elementary schools? Why this huge escalation in divorce? Why are there so few children in so many families that could be blessed with more but deliberately choose not to have them? And why do so many, even in our own churches, give tacit approval to some or all of this under a satanic twisting of our Lord’s words “Judge not”? What is going on?
“Did God really say?” the serpent asked Eve. That’s always the first question by which Satan plants the seeds of uncertainty and doubt before he proceeds to flat out contradict God’s Word to you. His tactics don’t change. What’s happened to us as a society is that we have been seduced first into doubt and then into disbelief of God’s Word—his Word about family, about marriage, about children. All three are special objects of Satan’s hate because all three find their foundation in God’s will and plan for the human race to bring us blessing.
Make no mistake about it—the Holy Scriptures reveal God’s plan for the human family. Marriage and family are not a social construct, something we dreamed up. We don’t get to define them as we choose. You heard that today in the Old Testament Reading. Marriage wasn’t Adam’s idea. Marriage was God’s idea and his gift. He created the woman to be the helper for the man, so he would not be alone. He brought the woman to our first father and gave her to him, and Adam received her as gift. Moses concludes: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24).
That is the Lord’s will, the Lord’s plan. Male and female, a man and a woman, given to each other, the nucleus of a new family. After all, when two become one, the Lord often delights to give even more gifts: the gift of children. And they are not, in the Lord’s plan, to be thought of as a burden, but a blessing. You heard it in today’s Introit: “Children are a heritage from the Lord… . Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” (Ps 127:3a, 5a). So far God’s plan.
But you don’t have to read very far into the Scriptures before you see this institution of the Lord, given for our benefit and blessing, under attack: polygamy, unfaithfulness, concubines, family dissensions, fights, murder, and bloodshed. The pages of Scripture are littered with the damage inflicted on the human race by the unending assault of Satan on this good gift of God and our buying into his lies.
All of that had been going on already for thousands of years when the Pharisees came to Jesus in today’s Gospel, seeking to trap him by drawing on the mess God’s own people had made of marriage. “Pharisees came up and in order to test him 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’ ” (vv 2–4). But Jesus regards even these words of Moses in Deuteronomy that permitted divorce under certain circumstances to be merely a concession to the hardness of the human heart. He says in response, “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female … 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” (vv 6, 8–9). Echoes of Malachi 2: “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring” (Mal 2:15).
The disciples struggled with the Lord’s adamant insistence that divorce is not the will of God, that it undoes what God himself has done in uniting together the man and the woman. They asked the Lord, in effect, if he really meant it. His words are uncompromising: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (vv 11–12). Divorce and remarriage is simply adultery and contrary to the will of God expressed in the Sixth Commandment. He allows no wiggle room in today’s Gospel.
Jesus doesn’t think about marriage the same way we tend to. Most people know situations where, if they are honest, they’d say that divorce simply made sense. It’s the reasonable thing to do. Why doesn’t our Lord get that? People loved by God, grasp the answer to that question, and the entire Gospel today will shine with a new and joyful light!
Why doesn’t Jesus “get” divorce? Because your God doesn’t “get” giving up on relationships. That would be contrary to his nature. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim 2:13). The Lord couldn’t and wouldn’t back off on his promises. They hold. They hold forever.
And so our Lord Jesus comes into the flesh to win a Bride for himself, a Bride to whom he will be faithful forever. If our problem is a hard heart, God in the flesh, our Lord Jesus, has a tender heart. As God put Adam to sleep and took from his side that with which he made the woman, so our Lord Jesus sleeps in death on his cross, and his tender heart is pierced. Then from that heart flows a fountain of blood and water (cf Jn 19:34). Long has the Church seen in the water and blood that flow from the pierced heart of our Lord a picture of both Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, by which the Holy Spirit tenderly creates the Bride of Christ, the Church, and brings her to the Bridegroom.
And that Bridegroom, your Jesus, is faithful to you, for his heart is not hard. He is faithful even when you have been faithless to him. He doesn’t “get” divorce. It makes no sense to him, because in his heart is a divine love that simply is unwilling to let you go, unwilling to lose you, no matter what. It’s the same divine love that had no patience with the disciples trying to block the little ones from coming to him for his blessing. “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them” (v 14). It’s a divine love that simply doesn’t give up, doesn’t “get” giving up, and will brook no barrier between you and him.
All of this, you see, is pictured in the way God—not we, not Adam, not our society—long ago designed the institution of marriage and the family.
God Established Marriage and Family
to Be an Image of His Own Unfailing Commitment
to You, His People.
Therefore, if there is anything in this sad world that can bring hope and a future to counter the mess we’ve made of trying to do marriage and family on our own terms because of the hardness of our hearts, thinking we know better than God, it is the open heart of Jesus. His open heart mirrors for us the Father and reveals the unfailing love of God, his “patience and loving-kindness toward us” that “have no end” (Collect).
Come, taste it anew at your Bridegroom’s Table as he pours into you more forgiveness than you’ve got sin and more life than you’ve got death. He sends you forth forgiven and renewed to begin mirroring in your families and your neighborhood the divine love of your Bridegroom, who holds you fast and has become one with you forever. Amen.