The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to Mark
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.’[a] 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,[b] and the two will become one flesh.’[c] So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 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 to such belongs the kingdom of God. 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 laying his hand upon them. ( Mark 10:2-16)
Moses Mendelssohn, the grandfather of the well-known German composer, was far from being handsome. He was rather short, and he had a grotesque hunchback.
One day he visited a merchant in Hamburg who had a lovely daughter named Frumtje. Moses fell hopelessly in love with her. But Frumtje was repulsed by his misshapen appearance.
When it came time for him to leave, Moses gathered up his courage and climbed the stairs to her room, to take one last opportunity to speak with her. He was stunned at her beauty, but saddened by her refusal to look at him. After several attempts at conversation, Moses shyly asked, “Do you believe marriages are made in heaven?”
”Yes,” she answered, “And do you?”
“Yes, I do, “ he replied. “You see, in heaven, at the birth of each boy, the Lord announces which girl he will marry. When I was born, my future bride was pointed out to me. Then the Lord said, ‘But she will be humpbacked,’
“Right then and there I cried out, ‘Oh Lord, a humpbacked woman would be a tragedy. Please Lord, give me the hump and let her be beautiful.’”
Then Frumtje looked up into his eyes, as if stirred by some deep memory. She reached out and gave Mendelssohn her hand, and later became his devoted wife.
I wanted to bring you a warm-hearted story today, a story of love, love that sees inside a person, past superficiality, the sort of love we all hope that we have or will find, in our life partner.
Like Moses in that story, we all have flaws in our appearance, and we hope we will meet someone who will love us for who we are, rather than for our looks.
Sometimes, we meet someone in whom we can see no flaws. They are just as beautiful as can be. But inevitably there may be things about our partner that we don’t know, and there are things about us that our partner won’t know. Not horrible things, although that has happened, but mostly I am thinking of the way we are; the things that we bring to the relationship from our family of origin, or from other relationships.
We may be damaged inside in ways that affect the way we relate, Sometimes these differences, faulty ways of relating, can be so severe an impediment to our relationship that our love gets frittered away, and we end up with a damaged relationship.
Sometimes, with the proper attention, counseling, willingness to listen, and willingness to work things out, the relationship can be saved.
Sometimes it can’t. In fact, the ratio of divorce to marriage is one to two. Half of marriages result in divorce.
I am a parent, as many of you are. We love our children. If one of my children were in a damaged and damaging relationship, and if the couple had taken all avenues in an effort to make it work, and if my child were living in a situation where she or he could never find happiness, and they decided to end their relationship, I would find it hard to judge them.
I want my children to live in relationships that allow them to grow and develop, to find happiness, and true partnership, and to achieve wholeness.
I believe that our Heavenly Father wants the same for us His children. And I don’t believe that He condemns us for our failures.
But how do we reconcile that with the words that Jesus spoke, as recorded in Mark’s Gospel?
First we have to look at the context. And the time.
Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce. “Is it right for a man to divorce his wife?”
The question of marriage and divorce was a hot issue at the time. Maybe the Pharisees wanted to test Jesus. Maybe they wanted to place him in opposition to Herod, who had just divorced his wife. Maybe they really wished to know his opinion.
The Jews had an ideal of marriage. They thought that God would forgive almost any sin, except the sin of unchastity. It was held that a Jew would die rather than commit idolatry, murder or adultery. ‘The very altar sheds tears when a man divorces the wife of his youth,’ it was said.
This was the ideal, but in actual practice, things were very different.
The whole crux of this issue was that a woman just wasn’t a partner in a marriage – she was a thing. A woman had no legal rights whatsoever. Her life was at the complete disposal of the male heir in the family.
A man could divorce his wife on almost any grounds, while there was precious little a woman could cite to divorce her husband.
And then again, a woman could be divorced against her will. A man could not.
Then there were also real problems because of various interpretations of the law, drawn from Deuteronomy 24.1. which says that a man can divorce his wife if he finds her in some ‘indecency.’
Interpretations of this ranged from saying that a woman must have committed adultery, to merely spoiling food, spinning wool in the street, talking to a strange man, and so on. One school of thought even held that if a man found a woman he thought was fairer than his wife, he could divorce her.
The upshot was that men divorced their wives for the most trivial reasons.
In this context, Jesus was condemning the use of a woman as a chattel. He was condemning the complete lack of compassion and kindness. He was condemning those who looked upon marriage as a temporary state, and one which could be gotten out of easily – if you were a man. He was condemning the lack of regard for the welfare of a wife, and their children.
In answering his questioners, Jesus went beyond the law, as laid down in Deuteronomy – back to Genesis in fact – for his view that marriage was a permanent bond that could never be broken by man’s laws or regulations.
But did Jesus mean that if a woman were sold by her family into a marriage where she was treated like property, dreadfully unhappy, her very personhood denied, that she should remain in that kind of bondage?
We are all flawed human beings. We are going to make mistakes. In relationships, perhaps there, is a greater potential to make mistakes than anywhere else.
As married couples we owe it to each other to try and solve problems. We owe it to each other to be understanding, and forgiving, and patient, and kind, and encouraging. But sometimes we fail. And despair is often the result.
I don’t believe that God wishes us to live in perpetual despair.
Jesus cared for people. He was concerned at the way people used others. He was concerned for the weakest and most vulnerable in society, and that included women.
He broke the rules of society by talking to women. He broke the rules of society by talking to those who were ostracized by the Hebrews. You will remember he disregarded both those rules when he spoke to the Samaritan woman by the well.
Today we read about his care and compassion for children, another vulnerable group in society. It was the custom for mothers to bring their children to great rabbis, to ask for a blessing on them. Some mothers had brought their children for Jesus to bless.
The disciples, concerned for Jesus, and perhaps knowing the stress he must be under, as he was making his way to Jerusalem and the cross, tried to shoo the children away. But Jesus, even in this time of great anxiety, and knowing what lay ahead, didn’t want anyone turned away.
Those who came seeking him would be received, and fed.
He tells his disciples to allow the children to come to him.
And he blesses them.
And he made a difference in the lives of those children.
We can do that.
I want to leave you with a story of someone who regularly makes a difference in the lives of others.
Lee Shapiro is a retired judge. He is a genuinely loving guy. At some point in his career, Lee realised that love is the greatest power there is. He became a hugger. He was known as the hugging judge.
He created what he calls his Hugger Kit. It has in it, little red embroidered hearts, with a sticky back. He exchanges them for hugs. He hugs at the drop of a hat. He is often invited to conferences as the keynote speaker where he shares his message of unconditional love.
At one of these conferences, the local news media challenged him saying, ”It’s easy to give out hugs in a conference where people know about you. What about out in the real world?”
He took up the challenge. The cameras followed him as he went onto the streets of San Francisco. He first approached a woman walking by. He said, “Hi, I’m Lee Shapiro, the hugging judge. I’m giving out these hearts in exchange for a hug.” “Sure,” she said.
That was too easy, so the TV commentator directed him to a lady parking attendant who was being given a hard time by a BMW owner. “You look like you could use a hug,” he said, and she accepted.
The television commentator threw down a final challenge.” Here comes the bus. San Francisco’s bus drivers are the toughest, crabbiest, meanest people in the whole town. Let’s see you hug this driver.”
As the bus pulled up, Lee said to the driver, “Hi I’m Lee Shapiro, the hugging judge. You must have one of the most challenging jobs in the world. I’m offering hugs today to lighten the load a little. Would you like one? “
The six foot two, 230 pounds driver got out of his seat, stepped down, and said…..”Why not?”
One day Lee’s friend Nancy Johnson showed up dressed as a clown. She said, “Lee grab a handful of your hugger kits and let’s go out to the home for the disabled.”
They got there, and handed out balloons, and hats, and hugs, and little red hearts to the patients. Lee was definitely uncomfortable. He had never before hugged people who were terminally ill, severely mentally challenged, or quadriplegic. It was quite a stretch for him. But after a while it became easier. Lee and Nancy acquired quite an entourage of doctors and nurses as they made their way through the wards.
Then they came to the last ward. In here were thirty-four of the worst cases Lee had ever seen. The feeling was so grim it took his heart away.
But, he and Nancy were committed to share their love and make a difference. They worked their way around the room, followed by the medical staff, all of whom were wearing little red hearts, and hats, and carrying balloons.
Finally Lee came to the last person, Leonard. Leonard was wearing a white bib onto which he drooled. Lee looked at Leonard’s dribbling and flinched. “Let’s go Nancy,” he said, “There’s no way I can get through to that person.”
Nancy replied, “Come on Lee. He’s a fellow human being too, isn’t he?” and she placed a balloon hat on Leonard’s head.
Lee took one of his little red hearts and placed it on Leonard’s bib. He took a deep breath, leaned down and gave Leonard a hug.
Leonard suddenly began to squeal – EEEEEEgggghhh. Some of the other patients started to bang things together. Lee turned to the staff for some sort of explanation, as Leonard continued to squeal – EEEEEggggghhh.
He asked the head nurse, “What’s going on?”
She replied: “This is the first time in 23 years we have ever seen Leonard smile.”
It doesn’t take much to make a difference in someone’s life, does it?
Jesus affirmed the value of children when he told his disciples to allow them to come to him. And he blessed them.
He affirmed the value of women when he condemned those who divorced them for selfish and trivial reasons, treating them as commodities, instead of beloved children of God.
In his death on the cross, Jesus showed us total and unselfish love. He didn’t judge any of us. He just died for us.
The stories of Moses Mendelssohn, and Lee Shapiro, are to be found in Chicken Soup for the Soul, written and compiled by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, published by Health Communications, Florida.1993