The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
The Very Reverend Nicolette Papanek, Interim Dean
Mark 10:2-16

May my words be your Word and my heart rest in you as I speak, O Lord. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

The Gospel today is not about you. And it’s not about me either. Nothing personal, folks, but wait…yes it is personal, but it’s personal in a way quite different from the way you may be thinking.

What the Gospel of Mark has Jesus saying today sounds darn personal. How can we help but take this Gospel both literally and personally? We’ve heard the divorce statistics. We may even be a statistic ourselves. Those same statistics tell us more than half the adults here have been divorced at least once. We may have friends who are divorced. Our grown children may be divorced. Our parents may be divorced. Or more simply, we know someone who is divorced, is going through a divorce, or contemplating a divorce. Many of us hear this passage and sit there hurt, or angry, or ashamed. If not on our own behalf, on behalf of someone we know. Doesn’t Jesus understand what we went through? Doesn’t he understand what our parents, children, or friends went through?

Yes, Jesus does understand, but Jesus isn’t talking about divorce and you. And he isn’t talking about divorce and me either. And he isn’t talking about divorce and your family or friends. He’s talking about vulnerability and the law.

The question the Pharisees ask is a question about law. The question is global. The answer Jesus gives is personal. It’s personal because Jesus makes the answer an opportunity to teach us how to live with one another in community.

Look at the context here. How does this passage begin? “Some Pharisees came, and to test him (Jesus) they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’” It’s about the law, folks. Jesus isn’t having a nice chat about whether or not someone should get divorced. He’s being asked to play judge and jury about the legality of divorce. He’s not being asked a personal question about whether someone should or should not get divorced.

In Jesus’ time there were varying opinions on the legal aspects of divorce. And it wasn’t about whether or not divorce was legal; everyone pretty much accepted that it was legal. It was about under what terms the divorce could take place.

In his usual way, Jesus changes the emphasis. He takes a question about legality and turns the emphasis to relationships instead. That’s why Jesus talks about Genesis as he focuses on the question. He’s reminding us of God’s original intent for us, which is to be blessed by our relationships.

The other thing Jesus is telling us is that this is about our communities, the places in which we live and worship. This is personal too. Jesus uses the Pharisees’ question to point toward the purpose of the law. The purpose of the law, in fact all law in its original intent, is to protect those most vulnerable.

In Jesus’ time, when a woman was divorced, her living status changed. Without a husband, or a male relative to protect her and house her, she was poverty-stricken. She lost her standing in society. Her good reputation was gone. Jesus is asking how men of his time could treat divorce like a convenience because it made those who were vulnerable even more vulnerable.

Until now the whole conversation has been about divorce. But at the end of the Gospel reading the subject gets changed to those even more vulnerable than women: children. Jesus’ action and words form another comment about vulnerability.

Once again, Jesus looks for and blesses the most vulnerable: the children. He blesses those with no protection. Just like women in his time, children were a commodity to be used, bought, sold, worn out, and cast off.

And so, in the end, what we have here this morning really is good news. The good news is that the community of Jesus is a place you can come when you are most vulnerable, most broken, and most in need of blessing. You and I have a place here because no matter how imperfect, or inadequate, or incomplete we think we are, this is the place to be. And it’s the place to bring your friends, no matter how imperfect, or inadequate, or incomplete they think they are.

St. John Chrysostom has something to say about this kind of vulnerability and the welcome of the church. It is this: “Enter into the Church…for there is a hospital for sinners and not a court of law.” AMEN.

The Rev Nicolette Papanek
1. Mark 10:2 (NRSV) Italics mine.
2.Exact source unknown, but from a series of sermons by St. John Chrysostom on parables in the Gospel of Luke. Italics mine. This particular saying was in reference to Luke 10:25-37 (Parable of the Good Samaritan).