A thorny question

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Ask God to help you concentrate as you draw near to him today. We all have wandering thoughts and are easily distracted. Pray for the grace of focus.

Bible passage

Mark 10:1–16

Divorce

10 Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.

Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’

‘What did Moses command you?’ he replied.

They said, ‘Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.’

‘It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,’ Jesus replied. ‘But at the beginning of creation God “made them male and female”. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’

10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11 He answered, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.’

The little children and Jesus

13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

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In response to the testing question from the Pharisees about divorce, Jesus reminds them of God’s original intention for marriage in Genesis 1:27 and 2:24. From this basis we see that marriage is meant to be a sacred and permanent relationship between a man and a woman (vs 5–9). Even for those deeply in love, this does not come easily. Couples have to work at their relationship, seeking daily God’s grace. Love is tested over the years, but love that endures is sweet indeed.

Jesus makes clear that divorce for the purpose of marrying another is the equivalent of adultery (vs 10–12). But what of those who sadly find themselves divorced? The ideal of marriage is to be upheld in the context of human frailty. Divorce can be extremely painful but it is not the unforgivable sin. There is healing, forgiveness and the chance to start again.

The third mention of little children (vs 13–16) reminds us that they are often the innocent victims of marriage break-up. Jesus welcomes them with open arms into his love and grace. His blessing is available to them, and to all who will come humbly, in child-like faith.

Author
Tony Horsfall

Respond

If you are married, pray for God’s blessing on your relationship. If you know people whose marriage is in difficulty, pray they will find help and counsel. Pray for those who have been through divorce to find healing and restoration.

Deeper Bible study

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.’1 Thank you, Lord, for the order and beauty in your creation.

The Pharisees try to trap Jesus by asking whether divorce is permissible, and seem concerned only about the right of a man to divorce his wife (vs 2,4). Jesus, however, distinguishes between what God allowed and what he intended. God allowed divorce under certain circumstances (see the notes on 8:17), but God’s intention is that marriage, as the union between husband and wife, is for life. Today, there is a push to redefine marriage; while the issues are different, the underlying attempt to challenge God’s design continues. To rephrase verse 9, ‘Therefore what God has defined, let no one modify.’

If we broaden the debate between Jesus and the Pharisees to discipleship more generally, we find that the challenge is to be informed about what is allowed and aim for what is intended. In Matthew 5:21–47, we find a string of ‘you have heard that it was said … but I tell you …’ sayings, where Jesus seeks to enrich his audience’s understanding of the morality God requires, finishing, in verse 48, with the challenge to be ‘perfect’ just as God is perfect. Jesus sets the bar high; the discipleship he proposes is radical.

In verses 13–16, children feature again. Children are deeply valued by Jesus and are characterised by their simplicity, curiosity and dependency. Likewise, the disciples are urged to be receptive and trusting regarding God and his kingdom. It appears that they have not grasped what Jesus taught in 9:33–41; they even try to stop parents bringing their children to Jesus. On another occasion, the crowd was an obstacle for others to come to Jesus.2 Let us be childlike in receiving the things of God and helpful to others who want to come to Jesus.

What is allowed and what is intended – and how radical is your discipleship? Are there practices or conventions in your church that could hinder people from coming to Jesus?

1 Gen 1:31  2Mark 2:1–4 

Author
Cor Bennema

Bible in a year

Read the Bible in a year: Isaiah 31,32; Psalm 105

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