At first glance, the passage from Mark 10:2-16 seems a little disjointed. It starts with a discussion about divorce and ends with a discussion about entering God’s kingdom like little children. While they seem to be disconnected, they really are connected. Let me try to explain.
Mark’s Gospel was the first of the four major gospels to be written. In fact, if you compare the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, you will find that they are very similar. John’s Gospel is different for reasons that I won’t get into this morning. Mark’s Gospel was not intended to be a daily diary of Jesus’ activities. Rather, it was intended to teach us about how we are to live our lives as Christians. In order to do this, Mark often puts two or more stories that are seemingly different side-by-side because of the deeper connection between them.
Such is the case with this morning’s Gospel reading. Jesus is trying to tell us that we are to show concern for the less fortunate in society. In Jesus’ time, women and children were among the least fortunate in society. They had very few rights. In fact, women were seen as the property of their husbands. A man could divorce his wife for seemingly petty reasons such as burning the meat, not keeping the home clean or getting older. All he had to do under the Law of Moses was to write a bill of divorce, give it to the woman and send her on her way. It is no wonder that prostitution is mentioned so many times in the Bible. It was the only way a divorced woman in that society could support herself and her children, especially if she did not have any other male relatives who could support her.
Society is the same today. There are many divorced women who are working to support themselves and their children without the support of their ex-husbands. Marriage is often seen today as nothing more than a social contract, but God sees marriage as a sacrament uniting a man with a woman. Society and some churches are trying to change their interpretation of God’s plan. One only has to look at the current debate within the Anglican Church of Canada regarding performing same-sex marriages to see an example.
While God’s plan is that marriages last until death, God also realizes that divorce is a reality because of our frail, sinful, human nature. That is why Moses allowed divorce, but he made it as difficult as possible. You see, the bill of divorce had to be written. Since many people at that time were illiterate, the process was a long and difficult one. God also realizes that there are situations where divorce is necessary, such as in the case of abuse. While every possible effort should be made to save marriages, we as Christians MUST also work with those who have been hurt by the pain of divorce to show them that God loves them and shares their pain.
Divorce does not just affect the spouses. It also affects their parents, siblings, friends, co-workers and most importantly their children. I know, because the pain of divorce and separation has affected a member of my family. I have seen how the particular situation has affected the children that are involved. All children are vulnerable, but the children of divorce can be even more vulnerable. Marriage was not intended to be ended by man, just like we can’t separate ourselves from the love of God. Our relationship with God is like a marriage, and just like every marriage, it requires work on our part; namely, faith and commitment.
Jesus knew that people suffer in divorce, so it is no accident that Mark follows Jesus’ debate with the Pharisees with Jesus calling the little children to him. We can see Jesus put his arms around the whole human race and condition. He does realize that divorce is sometimes necessary because of our human weakness. To the divorced, as to every person who is hurting, He offers insight, help, healing and forgiveness.
Jesus has a special fondness for the vulnerable members of society. That is why he had the debate with the Pharisees in the first part of this passage from Mark’s Gospel. One of God’s intentions for marriage is protection of the vulnerable-namely, women and children-from divorce caused by any reason. Jesus placed women, children and all vulnerable people on an equal footing with the rest of society. By doing so, he showed them that God’s love and God’s kingdom are for everyone. All we have to do is believe in Jesus and accept him in faith.
So how do we accept Jesus in faith? We do so by coming to Jesus like a child. Let me explain this by taking you on a short walk down memory lane. Some of you may have heard of a singer/songwriter named Ray Stevens. He is famous for writing and recording comedy songs such as “Bridget the Midget”, “Ahab the Arab”, “The Streak”, “Osama, Yo’ Mama”, and many others. He did record a few serious songs, the most famous of which was “Everything is Beautiful”. That particular song starts with some children who are singing words that tie in nicely with the topic of my homily today. The verse goes something like this:
Jesus loves the little children
all little children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world.
Children by nature are trusting, naïve at times, and full of curiosity and wonder. They always want to know “Why?” (As those of you who are parents probably remember from your child-rearing days!). They have few worries, if any. They have an enthusiasm for life that we tend to lose as we get older. They have a sense that anything is possible. They trust other people implicitly. They have little if any control over their lives and depend on their parents. In other words, they are humble, just like Jesus teaches us to be humble.
I wish I could say that we as adults are the same way, but we are not. We have been hurt by some of our life experiences. Other experiences have hurt us. We are committed to fending for ourselves. In order to know the love that Christ has for us, we must let go of our control. We must stop protecting ourselves because Christ is our real defense. We must stop trying to provide for ourselves because Christ is our provider. In other words, we must travel the path that leads toward the innocence and trust that a child has.
We must be like children in our service to God. We must trust and obey Him without fail. We must live as children of God SHOULD live. In Jesus’ time, children were seen as nothings until they were old enough to be useful. Jesus appreciated and valued them for who they were and what they brought as children:
- A simple, unquestioning faith
- A trusting view of life
- Disregard for wealth and status
- Taking pleasure in the smallest things
What is our outlook as Kingdom people on life, possessions, people, those who might be neglected? It should be like a child’s.
I’d like to close my sermon this morning with these words from an email I received a few years ago. They accurately describe how we are to come to God like a child and not keep others from coming to him. The poem is entitled:
WHEN YOU THOUGHT I WASN’T LOOKING
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you hang my first painting on the refrigerator, and I immediately wanted to paint another one.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you feed a stray cat, and I learned that it was good to be kind to animals.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you make my favorite cake for me and I learned that the little things can be the special things in life.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I heard you say a prayer, and I knew there is a God I could always talk to and I learned to trust in God.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you make a meal and take it to a friend who was sick, and I learned that we all have to help take care of each other.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you give of your time and money to help people who had nothing and I learned that those who have something should give to those who don’t.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you take care of our house and everyone in it and I learned we have to take care of what we are given.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw how you handled your responsibilities, even when you didn’t feel good and I learned that I would have to be responsible when I grow up.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw tears come from your eyes and I learned that sometimes things hurt, but it’s all right to cry.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw that you cared and I wanted to be everything that I could be.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I learned most of life’s lessons that I need to know to be a good and productive person when I grow up.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I looked at you and wanted to say, “Thanks for all the things I saw when you thought I wasn’t looking.”
When Christ comes into our lives, we become enthusiastic and God-filled. We can’t sit still. We want to get out and do something about it. We want to reach out to others just like God reached out to us through Jesus. We must not place barriers in the lives of people who desire to come to Christ—-not even the barrier of a broken marriage. We need to bring people to Jesus by being a Christ-like friend, by sharing what it means to follow Jesus, and by carrying thanks to Jesus in prayer. In the scene of children in the arms of a loving Jesus, there is a story to be told, lessons to be learned, a key to unlatch eternal life, and a promise to bring us ultimate happiness—the happiness that is even greater than the happiest marriage on earth.
- Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions” for Sunday, October 4th, 2009. Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
- Unknown, “A Christ in Our Midst”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.org
- Michael Warden, “Looking to the Father”. Retrieved from www.loi.org.
- Donald Strobe, “Childish or Child-Like”. Retrieved from www.sermons.com/theResultsPage.asp?user_id=31971
- Donald Strobe, “God’s Strange Arithmetic”. Retrieved from www.sermons.com/theResultsPage.asp?user_id=31971
- Michael Milton, “Children in the Arms of a Loving God”. Retrieved from www.sermons.com/theResultsPage.asp?user_id=31971