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Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 10:2–12

James T. Batchelor

Pentecost 19, Proper 22, series B
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Oct 4, 2015 

We may think that the discussion of the nature of marriage is something new, but todays Gospel demonstrates that there was controversy about marriage clear back in the first century.  In this case, the Pharisees came to Jesus with a question about divorce.  Jesus responded with an answer that not only speaks to divorce, but also gives a definition of marriage that speaks to the controversies concerning marriage in North America and Europe today.

By this time in His ministry, the elite members of society have kept an eye on Jesus for a while, and they have decided that they really dont like Him.  They have made it their business to embarrass Him in every way possible.  In todays Gospel, the Pharisees come forward with a test that they hope will challenge Jesus and make Him look bad.  This is one of many tests that they present to Jesus and all of them fail to harm Jesus standing in the community.  As we just heard, Jesus turned the tables on the Pharisees and it is they who come away in embarrassment.

So the Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? 3[Jesus] answered them, What did Moses command you? (Mark 10:23) Jesus basically told them to check Gods word.  This is good advice.  We should always check Gods Word in order to see what God says on any topic.  If God put the information in His Word, we ought to listen to what He said.

The Pharisees then referenced a section of Deuteronomy.  They said, Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away. (Mark 10:4) While the Pharisees have quoted Moses correctly in so far as they went, they left out a lot of the context that Moses included in the text.  The actual guideline for divorce begins with the words, When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house. (Deuteronomy 24:1) Even this limited context shows that the man must find some indecency in the woman.  By quoting the passage out of context, the Pharisees give the impression that they can throw their wife out onto the street by simply publishing a certificate of divorce.  The context of the passage shows that the husband must show that his wife is guilty of some indecency before he can throw her out.  In other words, she must be guilty of a crime against the marriage.

Jesus elaborated further on the cause for this guideline about divorce.  Then He referred to the creation of marriage that we ourselves heard from todays Old Testament reading.  Jesus said to them, Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. 7Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. (Mark 10:59)

Jesus was saying that because of the sinful nature that we have from birth, husbands and wives will sin against each other.  It is because of this sin that divorce happens.  So divorce is already evil.  The guidelines for divorce that Moses gave did not excuse people from the sin of divorce.  They were guidelines so that the evil of a divorce did not become something even worse.

Then Jesus turned to the beginning where God created marriage even before the fall into sin.  Notice that Jesus quoted and affirmed the account of the creation of marriage as Moses recorded it in Genesis.  In Genesis 1, we read: 27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27) Then in the more detailed review of creation in Genesis 2 we read: 24Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24) Note that this account in Genesis says male and female.  It also says man, not men, and wife, not wives.  There is one male, one female, one man, one wife.  According to the Genesis account, marriage is the one flesh union of this one, male man and this one, female wife.  It is this Genesis account of the creation of marriage that Jesus affirmed and upheld in the reading from todays Gospel.

From this Genesis account, Jesus then taught the conclusion: So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. (Mark 10:89) Note that Jesus says that it is two who become one flesh, not three or more, but two.  Note also that Jesus says that it is God who has made this union and therefore only God can separate it.  That means that if Adam and Eve had not sinned and died, they would still be married today.

From this reading and the parallel readings in the other Gospel accounts, it is very clear that Jesus teaches that marriage is the one flesh union of one and only male and one and only one female.  There is no male-male or female-female.  There is no polygamy, polyamory, or any other arrangement involving more than two people.  Finally, this is a union that only God can terminate and therefore remains in effect until death breaks the union.  People who say that Jesus has nothing to say in the current marriage debate are committing blasphemy.  And the fact that they get away with it demonstrates our cultures breath-taking Biblical ignorance.

Jesus teaching concerning marriage presents us with some real challenges in our day and age.  Most of us know people who have endured the pain of divorce.  Most of us know people who have had multiple sexual partners.  Most of know people who are dealing with same-sex attraction.  And when we remember that Jesus taught and said, I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart, (Matthew 5:28) we must realize that no one can live up to this marriage standard that Jesus established in todays Gospel.  Once again, we must agree that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

So where can we go or what can we do for relief from the condemnation of this impossible standard?  The fact of the matter is that there is nothing that we can do.  There is nowhere that we can go.  Once again, we see that we stand condemned before God.

However, although there is nothing we can do, there is something that God has already done.  The Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write that God chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Ephesians 1:4) We see the symbolism of this in the very way that God created Eve.  The Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. (Genesis 2:2122) God created a bride for Adam from a wound in his side.  Here, although Adam and Eve had not yet sinned, God was already providing an image that pointed forward to the manner in which He would provide a bride for His only begotten Son.  After Jesus bowed his head and gave up his spirit, (John 19:30) one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. (John 19:34) The Son of God took on human flesh and humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8) In this way, he earned forgiveness for all our sins including the sins we have committed against the estate of marriage.

Among the many errors that have slipped into the marriage debate is that the Bible somehow has a greater condemnation for sins against marriage.  So often, the people who struggle with sins related to marriage have come to believe that the Bible, or at least the church, considers these sins to have a greater damning power than all the other sins condemned by the Bible that the sin against marriage might be the unforgiveable sin.  That is so sad.  For the forgiveness that Jesus earned with His suffering and death on the cross is there for all sins.  The church is for people who struggle with their sins and repent of them and look to Jesus on the cross for forgiveness.  The church is not for people who are without sin for the Bible is clear.  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:89)

Christ has risen from the dead and ascended into heaven in order to prepare a place for His bride, the church.  On the Last Day, He will return and raise all the dead in both body and soul.  Those who believe in Him will join Him in the place He has prepared.  Among the people who will be there will be people who sinned against marriage and received the forgiveness that Jesus earned for them on the cross people like King David who had an affair with the wife of the most loyal soldier in his army people like Samson who had an affair with Delilah people like King Solomon and the patriarchs, Abraham and Jacob, who had multiple wives people like St. Augustine who lived on the wild side until the Holy Spirit brought him into the family of God.  The history of the church is full of people who sinned against marriage and received the forgiveness that Jesus earned for them.  Jesus said, I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. (Mark 2:17) He came also to redeem those who sin against marriage.  Amen

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