Mark 10:2-16

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At the end of this reflection, there is a series of images, like the one above, suitable for an animation.

An Activity

You will need a piece of paper, a pencil and a rubber. Take a minute to sit quietly, breathing slowly, as you ponder some part of your life that you know is not in line with God’s will.

Lord, you have searched me and you know me.

Write it on the paper, a few words are all you need. Fold the paper over if you are in company, then sit quietly with the paper in your hands.

Lord, you have searched me and you know me.

Allow God into that area and respond with repentance in the measure that you honestly can. If this is not much then you can ask God to help change your heart. It far better to say “God, I am not much sorry for this, but I want to be more sorry”, than it is to speak false words of pious hypocrisy.

Lord, you have searched me and you know me.

If you have repented honestly, then God has forgiven you. No matter what. Nothing is so big or so bad that God cannot forgive.

Take the pencil and cross out the words on your paper. This is not what God has done.

Scribble out the words. This is not what God has done.

Rub out the words. This is what God has done. In their place write forgiven. Take the paper home.

A Reflection

I have to admit that when I read the passage for today, my first reaction was, “Oh no!” This is not one of the more popular texts and it has the unfortunate effect of making many shuffle uncomfortably in their seats while others settle back into theirs in comfortable smugness.

Neither reaction is right. One of the purposes of Christianity is, after all, to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Here we have opportunity for both.

To the comfortable; let us remind ourselves that there is no ranking of sins in God’s sight. Sexual sin is not worse than any other, despite what the tabloid newspapers might have us believe. Just because we may not be susceptible to one sin does not make us better than our Christian brother or sister who is. They may well be looking at our tendency to pride or vengeful thoughts or whatever is our personal stumbling-block with as much pity as we look on them. Remember – God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

To the afflicted, those of us who squirm uncomfortably in our seats, let me say something very important: God loves you. He knows that you are divorced and he loves you. Divorce is not the unforgivable sin.

I’m going to say that again because there are many, and I’m sad to say, particularly in the church, who will be giving the opposite message. Divorce is not the unforgivable sin.

It is not part of God’s perfect plan, but then neither are lots of other things. God in his great mercy can forgive all sins, including those that lead to divorce. So if you are divorced, be assured that God still loves you despite that. (And if you are not divorced be assured that God still loves you even though you sin in other ways).

In fact, I’m going to suggest something really controversial: Divorce is not a sin. Now before you get out your catapults and rotten tomatoes, hear me out. I am not condoning divorce. Divorce is horrible. I’ve been through it. It’s really, really nasty. I’m not saying for one instant that divorce is anything less than dreadful and totally outside of God’s will. But not, itself, sin.

It’s the result of sin. And that’s different. It is not sin in the same way that going to gaol is not crime. It is the result of a crime.

I hate gaol (never been there, but I can guess). I hate that we have gaols. In the perfect world as God created it there was no need for gaol, and there will be none in heaven. But we live in a fallen world and gaol happens. Being in gaol itself is not sin, the crime was the sin. Gaol was the result of sin. In the same way, I would maintain, divorce itself is not sin. The million little things or the dozen big things that caused the marriage to fall apart were the problem. Divorce was the result.

Let’s make sure we base our reflection on what the Bible says about divorce, not what we think it says. We don’t have space here to examine all the passages, but I commend to you a careful study. And it may surprise you. (It certainly surprised me.)

All through the Bible you will see the same thing. In Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Ezekiel, divorce is mentioned in a matter-of-fact way, as something that happens, with no condemnation. In Isaiah and Jeremiah, it is the faithlessness that causes divorce that is condemned. In Malachi 2 God says he hates divorce and I totally agree. But if you read the whole of the section, what God is bothered about is faithlessness again. Divorce is the result of the faithlessness, and it’s the faithlessness that is the problem.

In the New Testament, Jesus has clear teaching about divorce. It’s repeated in Matthew, Mark and Luke, so we can tell it’s important. But look carefully. Jesus does not say “don’t get divorced”. Really, he doesn’t. He is, however, very clear about the serious nature of divorce. In the rest of this passage he restates Gods original intention for marriage, as a life-long union; not something to be dismissed when inconvenient or when someone better comes along.

You may know that it was a common practice in the culture of the New Testament to allow divorce on the most trivial of grounds, based on Deut 24, and that’s what Jesus is railing against in our passage. Jesus is emphasising that marriage is a serious affair and not to be taken, or ended, lightly. He’s opposing treating marriage like the latest phone, which you can swap when the next model comes out, instead of like a heart pacemaker, which is supposed to be with you for life.

Jesus recognises, however, that there are times when divorce is the lesser of two evils in an imperfect world. Which would you rather face, an earthquake or a volcano? The debris from that earthquake smashes families and hits friends, hurts children and wrecks relationships for years and years – even when we have confessed and been forgiven. But sometimes in real life we have a choice between bad and worse. And God knows this. We don’t live in Eden anymore. Divorce is never part of God’s plan for the best, but so is much of life. And God is bigger than any of our messes and bad decisions.

So is divorce always bad? Yes. Always bad. Is it sin? I would say it is the result of sin, and God, in his incomprehensible mercy, forgives sin.

If you are living with the pain of broken marriage, firstly, I understand. You are not alone in this. Secondly. God understands. Really he does. He knows all the hidden bits of you and still loves you. Let that sink in. Try reading Ps 51 or Ps 139 and tell your Loving Lord all the nasty stuff. He knows it anyway, so you won’t shock him. Then let his forgiveness wash you clean for a fresh start.

A Prayer

Loving Lord,
You know our every weakness, every dark corner of our souls, every place of sadness and badness and fear.
You see the hidden hurts and the scars of years. You see our failings and our longings. Our sin.
All these you see.
For all these you died.
Thank you

Amen

Bible Text               

Mark 10:2-16 NIV

Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

“What did Moses command you?” he replied.

They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”

“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

New International Version

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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