25 February 2011Mark 10:1-12
"Because of your hardness of heart [Moses] wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.'" (vv. 5-6)
Recently, I listened to someone introducing a new recording of
piano music by Robert Schumann. The presenter spoke with admiration
of the way in which the pianist had engaged with a particularly
mercurial composition, full of changes of mood and direction. It
required responsiveness and flexibility - not the imposition of the
pianist's own will. The gift-like quality of this music, said the
presenter, was such that it required to be approached with
To describe humility as an act of receiving and accepting a gift is helpful for our understanding of these verses on the subject of divorce. They appear within a sequence of discussions that focus on what Jesus expects of his disciples, so may be seen as further comment on the nature of discipleship.
What is interesting for us is that Jesus' public response dwells not on the rights and wrongs of divorce. He implies that divorce is a human device designed to address the difficulties of fallible human beings who wish to impose their own will on a situation. In fact, no Pharisee or Jew of Jesus' time would have needed to ask the question: "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" (verse 2). The accepted teaching of Moses already made it quite clear that divorce was an acceptable procedure - though, as today, there were many discussions about the circumstances that might or might not justify divorce.
Rather, Jesus takes this opportunity to look back beyond Moses' pragmatic decisions to God's original vision for the world and reminds us that marriage is a gift from God. Jesus looks beyond human law to the life that God offers us, and to which Jesus hopes we will be responsive. Receiving any of God's gifts for a loving life (marriage included) with flexibility and thanksgiving is the hallmark quality of humble discipleship.
When relationships reach a point of breakdown, what role does Christian humility have in our lives then?
We often say that "it is better to give than to receive"; are there occasions when it is "good to receive"? What are they?