The Gospel of Mark:
16 November 2014 The Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
Year A Color: Green
First Reading: Judges 4:1-7; Psalter UMH 797;
Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; *Gospel: Mark 10:1-16(Alt Rd.)
First Light Reading: Mark 10:1-16
The Pharisees posed a challenge to Jesus, by asking him to give them his interpretation of a particular portion of the Old Testament. Specifically, they want him to weigh-in on the matter of divorce. The Torah made a provision for divorce, while not directly encouraging it. In the first century AD, scholars debated about when it was permissible for man to divorce a woman. Some scholars said that a man was permitted to divorce his wife for anything at all, or even without a reason; while others argued that there had to be a good cause. The Pharisees wanted to know on which side of the issue Jesus came down .
I want you to see the fatal-flaw in the Pharisees’ whole approach to reading the Bible. What they were really asking is, what can I get away with? What is the minimum I have to do to be in compliance with God? Later, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus will identify the key to understanding the entire Bible, by saying that two commands summarize the whole message. Love the Lord your God with all you heart, mind, soul, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.
Where in the question raised by the Pharisees is the question of love? Where is there concern for women and children? The answer is, it’s not there. So, Jesus asked the Pharisees, what does Moses say in the Torah?
Moses, of course, had given a provision for divorce; but, this was only a concession. Far from being God’s will, divorce is a messy process, by which families and individuals are harmed emotional and otherwise. God is not against divorced people, but he hates what divorce does to us.
Jesus says that Moses made this concession in order to reduce the fall out and damage caused by men with calloused hearts. The certificate of divorce protected women from the worst kind of abandonment. If cleared her of accusations of adultery, when she remarried, and kept the ex-husband from wrecking her next marriage by trying to reclaim her as his wife. It also prevented men from swapping wives like some kind of property. In short, the concession was meant to reduce the social fallout caused by the divorce.
This means that Deuteronomy 24:1-4, the passage being discussed, is not about God condoning divorce. It also exposes just how far these men were from understanding the intent of God, as expressed in the Law. If the heart of the Law is love for God and others, one is not going to look for loopholes to get out of marriage, but is going to work to preserve and strengthen their marriage.
The same is true today. Marriages sometimes end. Some people are not emotionally or spiritually healthy. Some people are abusive or have destructive habits and behaviors. Sometimes it is necessary for marriage to end to preserve one of the people in it. But, this does not mean that we enter marriage with hopes of only doing the minimum and having plenty of loopholes to jump out of it, if being married becomes inconvenient to us.
The passage then follows with the story of a little child being set before them. Now, here is the connection. When the Pharisees were arguing about divorce with Jesus, they completely left women and children out of their discussion. It was a man’s world and, in their view, how divorce impacted men was all that was important.
In in ancient world, children were powerless, had not rights, and were regarded as being completely insignificant. Those who are part of Jesus’ Kingdom, who read the Bible through the lens of love will not disregard or ignore marginalized, powerless, or insignificant people. In fact, such will find a place of welcome and honor in a community where Jesus is Lord.
Both of these passages challenge how we read the Bible. We can read it like the Pharisees were reading it, by asking, “What are the minimum requirements by which I have to live?” What is the least I can do and still be a Christian. But this way of reading the Bible falls a long ways short of realizing the intentions of God.
Or, we can read the Bible with these questions in mind, “What would it mean for the love of God to guide my life in this area?” What would it look like if God’s love shaped my attitude, opinion, way of acting, and choices? What is God’s desire and intent for this area of my life. And, how does this part of the Bible inform that? These questions will work for any part of the Bible.
Now, there are lots of ways of misreading the Bible. Almost all of them have to do with trying to make the Bible suite our own particular tastes. One particularly dangerous way of reading the Bible is to say that some part of it are God’s word, while other parts are not.
When I was serving in another church, we had a retired pastor who was a part of our congregation. I genuinely liked him and his wife; however, I had a rather strange encounter with him in a Bible study. We were looking at a text in the Old Testament where God had sent his people into battle.
During our discussion he said, “The God I worship and serve would never send troops into battle. Not wanting to dishonor him, I grid to carefully point out that Jesus had always honored the Old Testament as God’s word, and that he never repudiated any part of it. Further, he made the radical claim that the God of the Old Testament, the God of Israel, was his Father, and that he was God’s only Son.
Yes, there are some very difficult texts in the Old Testament. Some of these texts require a lot of work to understand; but I we do not worship the God of the Old Testament, then we do not worship the One Jesus called Father, and the One Jesus came to embody.
Where the old pastor knew it or not, he was beginning to step outside the bounds of orthodox Christianity, by creating a god that seemed more suitable to him, which is idolatry.
There are authors, pastors, and theologians who will say that it’s okay to do this. They even encourage people to decide for themselves which parts of the Bible to accept and which parts to reject. But, if we are so good at knowing what God is like that we can stand judge over the Bible, why then do we even need the Bible, if we are the standard by which we measure claims about God?
But, Jesus, the Prophets, and the rest of the Bible tell us that we are not good at knowing what God is like. Instead, they teach us that the human heart is good at creating false gods, called idols.
A more sophisticated argument says that we will accept Jesus and his teachings, but that we will not receive the teachings of Paul and other New Testament authors. But friends, to do this is to disobey Jesus. Jesus hand-selected 500 eye witnesses to give the authorized version of his story to the world. These people were called apostles. We have their version of the Jesus story in the form of the four canonical Gospels and Acts.
Jesus also authorized the apostles to teach God’s people how to live and serve Jesus. We have a selection of their writings in the rest of what we call the New Testament. Jesus said that those who accept their teachings would be accepting Jesus; while those who were rejecting the teachings of the apostles were, in fact, rejecting Jesus. In Luke chapter ten, we read:
10 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two[a] others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.
5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.
8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.
16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
As a former atheist, I am perplexed by Christians who reject large portions of the Church’s teachings and Scripture because they do not want to live by them. As a former atheist, I just wan to say to you, that if you find God so hard to live with & the teachings of the Faith so uncomfortable, why not just become an unbeliever? Why not just stay home on Sundays, sleep in and watch football? Then, you can live any way you choose.
Jesus says, those who love him will keep his commands. He also says that his yoke is easy and his burden light. In the name of Jesus, stop trying to re-form God in your image. Quite trying to be his lord. Surrender. Lay down your arms and call him Lord.