Sunday, 4 October 2015

The Man With the Child in his Eyes

 Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”  
Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”  
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.  (Mark 10:2-16)
Whenever someone tells us that Jesus took the weight of the Old Testament Law from our shoulders, in my experience at least, it is unusual for them to mention at the same time his teaching on divorce.

Also, when somebody says that gay marriage undermines the sanctity of their own marriage, they rarely mention - if they are American evangelicals - that the presence of divorced and remarried people in their own congregations -in direct conflict with Jesus's teaching in this passage - may mean exactly the same thing. Because of Jesus is saying that marriage is a lifelong bond between two people, then surely somebody demonstrating its dissolubility is weakening the meaning and therefore everybody else's marriage? I should make an honorable exception for the Catholic Church at this point. They can say that gay marriage undermines other marriage, because they don't allow divorce either. I'm not saying they're right - but they are consistent.

This is a hard teaching. In a way it's a teaching that is more equal than the old teaching. Because the Old Testament laws specified how a man could divorce his wife - but a woman could not divorce her husband. So Jesus is putting both on an even footing.

But even so it's a hard teaching. Before divorce laws were introduced and then liberalised in England, people would be locked into loveless marriages. Women could be trapped with abusive partners - even abandoned but still unable to start their lives again.

It is clearly an ideal that two people stay together for life. It's what we all hope for when we marry, or why would we ever do it!? It forms a basis for a solid home and start for children - for showing lasting commitment. But sometimes, it seems to me, some marriages get so hard, some relationships so broken, that we have to accept that it's the case and do something about it. It seems to me that when that's happened - and people can never be back together - that to divorce is the kindest, and for people to remarry later is a reasonable thing to do. Our Lord gave us some commandments that are not so much hard to live up to as ideals, and I'm not going too cut my own hand off if it offends me. So I hope Jesus is offering the ideal but will still look at us, when we're fail, with mercy.

Which brings us on to the little children. The disciples don't want them near Jesus. Well, you know kids. They disrupt the worship. They're noisy - when they're tiny they scream and when they're a bit bigger they clatter around shouting. They get in the way, between us and Jesus. That's why the disciples don't want people bringing them - there's important people coming to see Jesus. And at the front of the queue, instead of the well-heeled merchants and people with Government contacts, the ones who might fill the money bag for the mission or put a word in to get Jesus a plush preaching gig at some trendy synagogue in Jerusalem - there's a queue of sleep-deprived parents and their snotty-nosed kids.

But Jesus gets angry - he does occasionally, you know - and says no, let them to me. The Kingdom of God belongs to ones like that.

And you know, it would be easy just to treat that saying as if Jesus was just putting up a nice theological saying, so 2,000 years later some middle-class English preacher could say "now what did he mean by that? Did he mean that you've got to have a child-like belief in him? That you've got to be unsophisticated? That you've got to be a whole lot of innocent things - unselfish, generous, simple, loving - that in fact real children actually aren't? I remember Celestine - on a night when Young Keith and Charlii had gone away for a few days' peace a few months back - at 2 am bawling inexplicably, refusing to be pacified by milk, food, songs or videos of " In the Night Garden " - looking at me for one moment with a look of utter victory and contempt.

No. I reckon that the Kingdom belongs to such as children simply because Jesus loves them. He knows kids are snotty and selfish. He knows they've no dignity. He knows they've nothing to offer. No money, no useful contacts, no good behaviour they can trade. He knows this and he loves and welcomes them just the same. Psalm 8 gives us a sense of how high the heavens are, how great our God is, how we're have nothing to offer. And yet "he makes us a little lower than the angels." Nothing we can do on our side. Nothing to offer. Nothing to bargain. No dignity that can stand up before the maker of the universe. Yet he loves us to bits, if we will just come to him as we are.

So you want the Kingdom of Heaven to be yours? This Kingdom you were meant to be a citizen of, yet which - like Monaco - you could never afford to belong to? Go to Jesus as a little child. Not clever, not dignified, not holy. Just as you are, trusting in his love. Because his love transcends all the rules and he loves you to bits.

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