By Rich Lambert
“And 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.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 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.’… And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 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. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’ And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.” - Mark 10:2-9, 13-16
St. Mark presents us with back-to-back accounts of two different groups of people that some other group want to put away for some reason. One put-away group is hypothetical; the other is in-person and being physically shooed away.
Jesus will have none of it from either group.
First, the Pharisees climb down off their divorce lawyer billboards up on the highway long enough to test Jesus with a bit of case law: “We are within our rights to divorce our wives, are we not, Teacher?” Always the nimble opponent, Jesus refuses to be put in a headlock by this pharisaical hair-splitting. “Moses gave you this commandment because your hearts are harder than a Judean mountainside—he was setting your wives free from your tyranny; he was not setting you free from your vows and obligations to faith and righteousness. The command of Moses is grace to your abandoned brides, not you rule-wrestlers. It’s a fresh start for them, and it may well be the end of the line for you.” (Jesus didn’t need to come right out and say it, of course, but the reason God does not shrug off your no-fault divorce is that it doesn’t match his character toward his people. The reconciling God refuses to claim irreconcilable differences and put us away, though he’d be well within his rights to do so a thousand times over.) So while the Pharisees are busy measuring themselves on the scales of righteousness, Jesus says they don’t even register.
Next, a mob of eager parents bring their children to have Jesus shell out his heavenly blessings to them. Maybe these parents know what they are asking for, and maybe they don’t, but either way Jesus knows how to grant what we don’t know how to ask. Meanwhile, the disciples are trying to herd the children and parents away from Jesus. These folks aren’t important. They aren’t impressive. They aren’t influencers. They have a lot of nerve thinking that the Savior would have any time for them at all. But the Savior waves them through, bounces them on his knee, touches them and blesses them. To the disciples, he says these are the kinds of folks who have the greatest share of the kingdom of God, with their runny noses and skinned knees and bubble gum bubbles. Children are the greatest in the kingdom, according to St. Mark’s account, because they aren’t the sorts to haggle and negotiate over who’s righteous and who’s not, the way the Pharisees are prone to do (Mark 10:2-12), say, or the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-31). Children will accept whatever good anyone has to offer, and that makes them uniquely able to value the cross and the empty tomb. It makes them models of grace.
All of this goes to show, of course, that when it comes to the kingdom, those keeping score are out, and those who are down-and-out are in; those with arms crossed at the chest and pointing fingers will be stopped at the door, while those with outstretched arms and open, clutching hands will get the red carpet treatment.
Faith and Practice:
Do you spend more time in prayer arguing your righteousness before God, or asking him to load you down with unearned, unmerited gifts? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
In our six-week small group Bible study on the book of 1 John, you are invited to live and celebrate true life in Christ. Throughout his first letter, John wrestles with the assurance of salvation. How do we know that we are genuine Christians, and how can we recognize authentic faith in others? The Apostle John taught that you can enjoy full assurance through believing in the incarnate Son of God, walking in the light of obedience, and loving God and his children. Embark on this study with us today!
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