Jesus and Divorce?

(Proper 22, Year B)

A colleague of mine said this week that too many pastors do not want to preach on this Sunday's gospel lesson, Mark 10:2-16. It seems that the assumption of many is that preachers do not want to come close to the touchy subject of divorce.

Not me. A short three weeks after the day my second marriage was solemnized, I am itching to preach this text. Unfortunately, I made the decision back in May (before had even looked at this Sunday's Gospel) to preach on the Old Testament text, and so for the next few weeks I am preaching on Job (also a text that needs to be heard).

But the fact that I am not preaching it does not mean I can't share my thoughts with you!

Many pastors this Sunday are going to talk about divorce, and that's a good thing. Those who are dealing with the hurt and pain of divorce need to hear their pain addressed. Very often, divorce is just ignored, because it makes people uncomfortable. But this is not the Sunday to talk about divorce.

Let me be clear - as one might guess - my theology of marriage and of relationships does not teach that a second marriage after divorce is adultery. I do not think that divorce is the worst thing that can happen in the course of a relationship. But that is a topic for another time, because this Gospel text is not about divorce.

Throughout the Gospel, Jesus again and again expresses a deep concern for the defenseless and vulnerable in society. He talks about the children, the "least of these," widows and orphans, the poor, the hungry. In fact, in the passage just prior to this Jesus warns about the danger of causing the "little ones" to stumble and in the passage following he talks about the importance of welcoming children.

The "divorce text" of Mark's Gospel should not be read in isolation. It fits with the text that precedes and follows it. It is not about divorce and marriage at all. It is about our responsibility to care for those who cannot care for themselves, our responsibility to defend those who are vulnerable.

Women whose husbands divorced them in the ancient world were often left with nothing. Whereas divorced men often got a free pass, divorced women were often ostracized and left with no means to make ends meet. Questions about divorce in the ancient world are not the same as divorce in 21st century America. Jesus calls for a personal and communal responsibility that does not throw away relationships and - more importantly - that does not throw away people.

Divorce and broken relationships are important topics, but not this Sunday. This Sunday, Jesus reminds to us to defend the defenseless. This Sunday, Jesus reminds us to make sure that our relationships (all of them!) do not treat other children of God as if they are disposable. This Sunday, Jesus reminds us of our responsibility to care for those whom our society has forgotten.

"Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." ~Mark 10:15

Image: "Third Rail" by David L Hansen,License: Creative Commons (Attribution/NonCommercial/NoDerivs).