Sunday 04 October 2009

Bible Book:

"Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." (v.15)

Mark 10:2–16 Sunday 4 October 2009


In the first part of today's reading (verses 2-12) Jesus hasanother run-in with the Pharisees (the teachers of the Jewish Law).Earlier in Mark's Gospel they have questioned him about eating withsinners and tax collectors (2:16), pluckingcorn on the Sabbath (2:24) and eatingwithout ritual washing of hands (7:1-5). After thefeeding of the 5,000 they test Jesus by asking for a sign fromheaven (8:11).

This time, the Pharisees want to test Jesus on a disputed questionof law. In a context in which women could be easily divorced bytheir husbands, Jesus tells the Pharisees that God's originalintention was that a man and woman should be joined forever as oneflesh. The Old Testament law only permitted divorce (seeDeuteronomy24:1-4), Jesus says, because of the hardness of heart of theIsraelites. To his disciples he later says that marrying againafter divorce is adultery (verses 11-12).

Some Christians have interpreted this text to prohibit divorce orremarriage after divorce, noting that Luke's Gospel also recordsthe same clear injunction (Luke 16:18). Evenwithin the New Testament, however, other passages suggestexceptions to a strict norm. Matthew5:31-32 prohibits divorce "except on the ground ofunchastity" (though it is not clear exactly what is meant by"unchastity" here). In Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, hesays that Christians married to unbelieving spouses should try tostay together if they can, but if it is not possible they canseparate (1Corinthians 7:10-15).

Richard Hays is a well-known Methodist biblical scholar in the U.S.who is conservative on many issues. He suggests that thisdifference of view within the New Testament suggests the Churchshould be free to consider divorce in other exceptionalcircumstances, such as domestic abuse (see Richard, B. Hays, TheMoral Vision of the New Testament [Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1997],ch.15).

The second part of today's passage (verses 13-16) takes up adifferent theme. Jesus is angry with his disciples stoppingchildren coming to him. He challenges the disciples - and us - bysaying that the kingdom of God belongs to those like the children,and if we do not receive the kingdom as a child we will never enterit. Many preachers have mused about these words, sometimessuggesting we should be 'childlike' but not 'childish' in ourfaith. Whatever we make of Jesus' words, we should not avoid theshock and surprise that Jesus must have caused his disciples. Akingdom in which children come first, and others have troubleentering, is an upside-down one indeed.

To Ponder

How do you respond to the idea that differentparts of the New Testament seem to take different perspectivesabout the question of divorce?

What role should the Bible have in relation tothe Church's thinking about whether divorce is legitimate forChristians?

What do you understand Jesus to mean in requiringhis followers to be like little children?

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