This week’s reflection comes from Rev. Mary Johnson
Assistant to the Bishop for Candidacy
Prayer of the Day
Sovereign God, you have created us to live in loving community with one another. Form us for life that is faithful and steadfast, and teach us to trust like little children, that we may reflect the image of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Gospel of the Day: Mark 10:2-16
2Some Pharisees came, and to test [Jesus] 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.
In recent months the institution of marriage has been in the news a lot. In June, the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges made marriage a constitutional right for couples of the same sex. In July a website to match up married people seeking to cheat on their spouses hit the headlines when hackers stole and released the names of the Ashley Madison customers. In September a county clerk in Kentucky was jailed for contempt of court after refusing to issue marriage licenses, due to her religious objection to marriage between partners of the same gender. As these events play out in the courts and the media, we often hear people quoting the Bible, including this passage from Mark. Such verses have been used to oppose divorces, as well as marriages, too often without the compassion and concern Christ himself showed in this reading towards both women and children.
As we have been hearing each week in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus consistently and persistently showed forth God’s grace and mercy to those who were vulnerable, suffering or marginalized, over against laws and traditions that kept God’s people from living the abundant life God willed for them. In this teaching about marriage and divorce, Jesus was calling his followers to lives and relationships of love and faithfulness that surpass the demands of the law. The law might have allowed one to discharge a spouse to marry another, leaving women, in particular, without status or support in the community, but Jesus upheld God’s intention for marriage to preserve the bond of mutual care within the community of God’s people.
As we read these verses, let partners who are being abused or demeaned in their marriages hear that Christ does not condemn them to remain in danger or shame. Let those who would cast off their spouses as disposable or replaceable commodities, know that this is what Christ rejected. Jesus here holds up marriage not so much as a legal contract but as a sacred covenant and holy calling of God’s own creation. It is in these – and all our relationships – that we are called to live out our faithfulness to God, by loving the other as Christ has loved us. Whatever the nature of our most intimate relationships, we are called to love and serve God by loving and serving our neighbors. And, as each of us falls short of this, we each must come humbly in repentance to our merciful God. For all who need hope, healing and forgiveness, these verses are Good News, as Christ offers this abundant mercy and grace of God to all who would come to him.