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.

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they 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 dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” Mark 10:1-12

A literal reading of this text says that my wife and I have been living in an adulterous relationship for the past 12 years. Both of us have been previously divorced. We’re not proud of that. Frankly, for both of us, there is an element of guilt, shame, and regret that we will live with for the rest of our lives. We have complicated the lives of our children and grandchildren. Yet it wasn’t all bad. Their stepparents have enriched their lives. We do the best we can to learn from our pasts as we live and build our future together. Life is messy. This passage makes us mindful that divorce cuts much deeper than a legal proceeding to end a marriage contract. It humbles us.

But I don’t really think that this passage is simply about divorce. It too seeks to cut much deeper. It isn’t about real human beings finding their way through life. It is about the Pharisees trying to test Jesus, to trick Jesus, and to divide Jesus from those who would follow him. What better divisive topic to choose than divorce?

Jesus’ culture was absolutely patriarchal. All the rules were set up to benefit men and subjugate women. Divorce was easy for men. You don’t like your wife for any reason at all? Kick her out of your tent. Send her back to her family. Note it on a piece of paper and she is hung out to dry while you go and buy yourself another wife that might be more pleasing to you. That is how it worked.

Jesus knows that so he turns their test back on them. “For your hardness of heart” he says. For your stubborn refusal to admit your fault. Your closemindedness to the errors of your ways. Your devotion to twisting life to your own selfish ends. All of that and more is what hardness of hearts is all about and the Pharisees are vivid examples of it.

Jesus’ response is also a call to justice rooted in the oldest of stories. It is his attack on the systemic oppression of women and the dark side of patriarchy. Today divorce remains widespread. Half of all first marriages end in divorce. Divorce laws today are much fairer, much more focused on the good of the children. Yes, everything can be made much more difficult when driven by greed or resentment. Laws can be twisted toward injustice. But even something as difficult as divorce can be redeemed.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, draw near to people who share their lives together in marriage, to those preparing for marriage, to those struggling with the possibility of divorce, and to those ever-healing from the pain of divorce. May your grace abound and your guidance be present. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

One Response to “Mark 10:1-12”

  1. Keith Says:

    Amen. This is a tough passage for those of us who have undergone a divorce for sure. Thank you for your thoughts on this Pastor Kerry.

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