4 October 2015

Mark 10:2-16

“They are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (vv. 8-9)

Psalm: Psalm 8


In Jewish law in the time of Jesus only a man could initiate divorce, so the suggestion implicit in Jesus' words in verse 12 that a woman might have an equal right to do so is radical but unsurprising for anyone who has been following his ministry and the many ways it deeply challenged the status quo.

When Matthew's Gospel reports this whole incident (Matthew 19:3), it is a question about what constitutes just cause for divorce, but Mark's Gospel here reports it as simply concerning whether divorce is right at all. The Pharisees are often presented in the Gospels as testing Jesus by trying to get him to say something they can use against him. Here he responds with an answer to their question that is neither a straight yes or no.

Moses, the one whom the Jewish people understood to have given them God's law, assumed divorces would take place, that they would be properly documented, that a divorced woman might remarry, and prohibited her from re-marrying her first husband if she became divorced again (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). Jesus suggests these provisions only exist because of "hardness of heart" (v. 5). God's absolute purpose for marriage from the beginning - Jesus quotes Genesis 2:24 (in verse 7) - was that God joins two people together and humans are not able to undo that bond merely by the legal process of divorce. Jesus reinforces this understanding in no uncertain terms when privately with the disciples later he describes second marriages after divorce as acts of adultery (verses 10-11).

But because of human failure to share the heart of God, provision for divorce is necessary to limit the consequences of our failures.

To "receive the kingdom of God as a little child" (v. 15) has nothing to do with subjective qualities of children, but with the objective fact that they are weak and unimportant, and God chooses the weak of the world (see 1 Corinthians 1:26-29) as is amply demonstrated by the ministry of Jesus.

To Ponder

  • In your view, what if any constitute legitimate grounds for divorce?
  • Do you consider that the society you live in makes divorce too easy or too hard? What changes to the law would you like to see? How might we wish people's understanding of marriage to change before they enter it?
  • Why do you imagine the disciples tried to stop parents bringing small children to Jesus for his blessing (verse 13)? Why do you think Jesus took a different view? How, in your experience, does the Church of today learn from this simple story?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Stephen Mosedale

Stephen Mosedale is a recently retired Methodist minister now living in Devon. He is enjoying the freedom that gives, whenever mood and weather dictsate, to walk on Dartmoor, photograph varied and ever-changing seascapes, or grow vegetables in the garden.