devotion 8-18-14

Good Morning!A prayer this morning for all the children, teachers, child-care workers, bus drivers, and others who work with the children, who are heading off to the first day of school today. (In Monroe County, school starts today.) We pray for safety, and for a productive and beneficial school year for everyone!

Mark 10:1-12

He left that place and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan. And crowds again gathered around him; and, as was his custom, he again taught them.

2Some Pharisees came, and to test him 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.”

Note again, the transition in 10:1, as Mark tells us that Jesus moves on to Judea and the region around the Jordan – he is going south, out of the area of Galilee which is often lush and green, into the land that is dry and brown – at least that was my sense of the difference in the topography. Again, the crowds gather and Jesus teaches them.

Jesus is nearer Jerusalem – likely the Pharisees who approach came from there. Again, they choose to test him with questions. This is still an accepted way of teaching among the Jews, especially Orthodox Jews. There are specific questions, to which there are acceptable answers; today these questions are still argued, but must be referenced to the Torah or the Scriptures, or to the Talmud, the ancient interpretations of the scriptures. The question put to Jesus, and one which obviously was argued among the religious of the day, was, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” The word translated as “lawful” means permissible or proper. In those days a man could divorce his wife simply by saying “I divorce you”, signing a decree, and putting her out of the house. At a time when women had no way of earning a living, this could leave her destitute. (Interestingly, Jewish law still allows a man to divorce his wife, although for most an agreement has been added to the wedding that allots a portion of his belongings to her. And, of course, the legal system also gets involved in a divorce, but the man still has to initiate divorce – even in cases of abuse. There was a case a few months ago where men from a synagogue were accused of kidnapping for taking a man and holding him until he signed a divorce decree for his wife, whom he had abused.)

Jesus asks his questioners to tell him what the law says, and they reply that Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and divorce her. Jesus agreed that was what Moses allowed, but he said that was not God’s intention – interesting here, Jesus puts what is right in God’s eyes above what was written in the scriptures he and the Pharisees considered law. It was God’s intention that marriage should join two people and the two should become one flesh. The line that followed is one we hear in our marriage vows, “Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” When the disciples ask him to clarify, he is even stronger on this issue – saying that when one divorces his wife or her husband and remarries he or she commits adultery (this is an interesting aside or addition, since in Jewish law a woman could not divorce her husband and could not bring a charge of adultery against a husband). This is very strong language! Remember a few chapters ago, when John was beheaded at Herodias’ demand? He had made this accusation against her, and against the ruling Herod – under Roman law she had divorced her husband and married his brother, Herod Antipas. Jesus is saying that John was right in accusing Herod and Herodias.

Jesus is also saying that we should be looking more at God’s intent behind the law than at the letter of the law. God’s intent in this case was that two should be joined as one and share life together. The law had allowed for something else, because God knew the nature of the human condition, (their hard hearts as Jesus put it). But the law was being used on a one-sided basis to put women out of their homes. The strictly legal was not what was right.

How do we apply this teaching today? I think we need to be more serious about making the commitment that is marriage, and we need to be more serious about trying to make it work when it turns out that all is not roses. Remember, however, that love was not considered a requirement for marriage in the first century; marriages were arranged, as they still are in much of the world. Romantic love might come as a bonus, but was not expected. Today, when we expect to love one another, it can be harder to hold that bond together when we feel unloved. It is important to show our love for one another, to take time to make, and keep, that connection. But, there is not always a good answer, and sometimes ending a relationship is the better of the choices. God would not ask someone to allow themselves to stay in an abusive relationship, for example. In short, this is a very individualized response, that should be taken in all seriousness.

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