THEMES: Faithfulness and relationships are important to God
THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK
This Sunday, if one of the Lectionary readings was used in your worship, it may have struck you how concerned God is about relationships.
This week the readings ranged from God’s creation of men and women to be companions for one another, to the pain and brokenness of divorce; from Job’s struggle to be faithful to God and his bitter wife, to Jesus who humbled himself in order to serve human beings, whom he considers his brothers and sisters.
Today’s readings are just a fraction of the biblical teaching on relationships.
For God it all boils down to loving God and loving one another.
But this isn’t always as easy as it sounds.
People can be extremely difficult to love. People can be antagonistic, selfish and arrogant.
People can disagree with us and mock us for our faith.
Some of this very human sinfulness was reflected in the disciples as they rebuked those who brought children for Jesus’ blessing.
They probably thought they were helping Jesus – protecting him from trivial things.
But they were getting beyond themselves, and they needed to learn the humility, spontaneity and openness of children – which is why Jesus tells them that his followers must learn to receive God’s Reign like children.
You can’t follow Jesus without facing the challenge to be in relationships. Our families, friends, strangers, companions in faith, and even our enemies, are all included in God’s love, and in God’s call for us to love. The truth is, it is only when we learn to embrace love to this extent that we really find the abundant life that God desires for us.
Historical context: Patriarchal marriage
Only men can divorce women (not vice versa)
Men can divorce women for committing adultery or for displeasing them (“in any number of ways, including, according to one rabbinic source, “burning her husband’s toast.” Lose, Working Preacher
Result of divorce for a woman – family and public rejection and disgrace as well as social, economic devastation for her and her children.
Jesus vs Pharisees
“trying to test Jesus.” This is not a fair question. Pharisees not interested in honest discussion.
This is not a traditional back and forth debate regarding texts (Genesis over Deuteronomy), instead Jesus refuses that argument to focus on the bigger picture of “the least of these” – in this case women
Divorce is a result of Patriarchal marriage
“The [Genesis] passage is best translated as ‘the two persons-man and woman-enter into a common human life and social relationship because they are created as equals’” Fiorenza, In Memory of Her
The woman is not, according to Genesis, given to the power of the man, but rather the man who must sever all connections to be united with the woman.
Also the word Jesus uses χωρίζω- to separate is different from αποστατιον – divorce moving the conversation from legal terms to broken relationship
“Patriarchal practice drives a wedge into the unity and equality originally articulated in the marriage covenant.” Myers, Binding the Strong Man
Children – from the least of these to the least of the least
Not just an effort of the lectionary to “soften the blow.”
Reveals the true nature of Jesus’ ministry, which is not to exclude, but to include.
Reveals how Jesus is acting on behalf of those that no one else would support.
While the disciples are in the act of dismissing the children, Jesus is bringing them in.
“The disciples have bought into ancient society’s valuation of children – they are not important. Children have no status and no rights, and thus their presence is a nuisance. Jesus sees things differently. In fact, the rule of God belongs to persons like this – powerless, vulnerable, weak, persons, who are often deemed a nuisance. In rejecting the children, the disciples have not just made a slight error of judgment – they have missed the whole point of Jesus’ ministry.” (Charles Cousar, Texts for Preaching, Year B, p. 539)
What does it mean to become like a child?
Not about innocence, but about being powerless, vulnerable, credulous, utterly dependant
This is what it means to be what Jesus called “hard hearted”. Jesus’ words, then, don’t just apply to breakdown in marriage relationships. They apply to every relationship.
Jesus challenges every one of us on our hard heartedness – our tendency to protect ourselves and our own interests at the expense of our relationships, be it with friends, family, or companions in faith.
This is also why children become such an important part of this passage. Children are not saints, but they are openhearted. They love easily and give themselves easily. It’s only as we grow and get hurt that we start to close and protect our hearts. But, in God’s Reign, a child-like open-heartedness is not an option. It’s the way of grace and love.
How can you open your heart a little more today?
Do: The only way to heal a hard heart is to allow it to be broken. We break our hearts by acknowledging our self-interest and self-protectiveness, and by choosing to become more vulnerable to God and others. This means being willing to embrace the hurt – and the healing – that love always brings. Today, spend time in heartbreaking confession and ask God to help you open your heart to love.
Pray: Break my self-protective heart, O God, and open me to love