Jesus 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 reign of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the reign of God as a little child will never enter it." - Mark 10:11-15
A friend and I used to do long-distance sermon work, discussing scriptures and themes and testing ideas with each other. One week she asked what text I'd be using. "Jesus on divorce," I said. "You?"
"Ugh," she said. "Anything but that."
It's a difficult text. Far too often, Jesus' apparently blanket rejection of divorce gets used as a biblical cudgel to beat on people. Lest there be any doubt: despite this teaching from Jesus, I know that divorce is often necessary, usually hard, and the people involved need our compassion, not our judgment. Especially people who choose divorce to end abusive or soul-deadening relationships.
I did preach on that text, and on my conviction that Jesus' core message was about right relationship: even though ancient religious law gave men the right to easily divorce women, the imbalance of power was bad news, not good. The deeper lesson: just because you can doesn't mean you should, especially if it's coercing someone else.
That seems to makes sense with the otherwise odd juxtaposition of the next verses: "Whoever does not receive the reign of God as a little child will never enter it." Those youngsters were without social or economic influence, but filled with play and possibility. They couldn't earn or maneuver or litigate their way into God's embrace — but God wanted them, and us, to have it. Because that's who God is: unconditional compassion.
Compassionate One, for those whose relationships are in trouble, may we reflect your unconditional grace and support. Help us remember that your love can't be earned, just given, and giving love away only increases the supply. Amen.
John A. Nelson is the Pastor of the Niantic Community Church (UCC/UMC) in Niantic, Connecticut.