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The Elephant in the Room

October 07, 2018
By Rev. Peter Heckert


+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from our Gospel reading, specifically where Mark records Jesus’s words, “Because of your hardness of heart [Moses] wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”’ Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

The Pharisees have approached Jesus to trap Him in His words. To do so, they ask Him a question that was  ... uncomfortable – uncomfortable then, uncomfortable now. Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? Unimpressed by their attempted trap, Jesus flips on them. He asks, What did Moses command you? Now, such a question ought to have been a warning to those stiff-necked Pharisees that, unless they were there, they should really tread lightly, but that’s not what they do. Instead, these teachers of the Law boastfully reply, Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.

Again, Jesus is less than impressed. He replies, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Jesus is saying, “You – y’all standing in front of Me right now, and the whole of humanity throughout history – because of your hard-heartedness, Moses begrudgingly acquiesced. He allowed it; that doesn’t make divorce a good thing. Quite to the contrary, it is never a good thing. A man and a woman who are joined together in the bonds of holy matrimony are supposed to cleave to each other, not separate. Therefore, anyone who does so … sins!”

Now apparently, the disciples take some exception to this teaching. You can imagine their sheepishness as they ask Jesus about it; Mark doesn’t even record their words, only that they asked the question. But there’s no wiggle-room in their Rabbi’s reply: Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery. This is a hard text – not because its meaning is obscure or seemingly incoherent to our broken minds. This is a hard text because its message is crystal clear: divorce is sinful, regardless of the circumstances.

Such a black-and-white declaration coming from our Lord and Savior hits us like a wrecking ball, and not surprisingly, it hurts. It hurts to hear Jesus say this because we know people … we love people who have gone through a divorce. We know how agonizing the process was, and we don’t want to make matters worse. We don’t want to make them feel bad about an already painful situation … so we gloss over it. We ignore it. We excuse it. We cite the divorce rate statistic as if it doing so makes it okay. “That’s life,” we say. “It happens,” we say. “It’s better that they be apart,” we say. We seek all different ways to tip-toe around the hard, cold fact of what Jesus says here in our text: divorce … is … sin. It is contrary to God’s will and purposes for human relationships. It hurts everyone involved – friends, family, (ex) spouses, and especially the children. It is sin because our marriages are meant to reflect Jesus’s relationship with His Bride, the Church, and thanks be to God that Jesus will never leave HIS Bride!

But why the squeamishness? This is, after all, God’s Word, from Jesus’s own lips, so why are we so afraid to address the elephant in the room? What’s the real reason why pastors are sweating bullets if they dare preach on this text? Why is it that those who do will inevitably catch flak for doing so? Because this is what we do as humans, and I think it’s the real reason why this text makes us so uncomfortable. As fallen human beings, we are experts in mental gymnastics. We explain away and excuse sin. “It’s not wrong, it’s just what happens,” we tell ourselves, and we launch into a defense of why it’s not that bad. After all, we had our reasons! We had pure motives … righteous intentions! THEY just took it the wrong way!

We do exactly what the Pharisees were doing: trying to find the loophole, trying to weasel our way out. This is what we do. We are professional manipulators, distorters of truth, twisters of reality. Like an animal caught in a trap, we are willing to go to any length to free ourselves from confessing our sin and guilt and shame. Our reaction to Jesus’s words regarding divorce is a litmus test, looking at how we really feel about sin. We want it to be okay. We don’t want to face the reality of sin – our own, or our neighbor’s. We’d rather look for a reason to explain away why we did what we did. But there is no wiggle-room. Jesus gives no berth to skirt around the issue. He calls it what it is, in no uncertain terms: it is sin. It is a raw, throbbing, painful reminder of the brokenness of our world. In this case, God has given us this wonderful gift … a lifelong relationship between a servant-leader and the one who helps and supports him, eliminating loneliness, providing support and satisfaction and direction … and in our sin, we allow it to be torn apart.

That’s hard to hear, but this is what Jesus does by using His good and perfect Law. He paints the cats into the corner, if you will; He wants to get you to the point where you realize it’s pointless to try and wiggle away. He wants you broken over your sin … so that He can pick you up and start rebuilding. The message of this text is the same as it has been over the last few weeks: we are all sinners. None of us is great … but Jesus is. This entire discourse is intended to point us to the reason why Jesus had to come in the first place: to save us truly hopeless sinners. It’s not surprising that, later in this same chapter, Jesus foretells of His death for the third and final time, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” All done … to save you … and me … from the right punishment for our sin – yes, including the sin of divorce, and the sin of cohabitation, and sex before marriage, and homosexuality, and abuse  and stealing and gossip and pride and greed and hate and all other manner of wickedness that proceeds from the heart of mortal man. We are sinners, and these are our sins. And the amazing, wonderful news is that it is all forgiven … it is all atoned for … by Jesus’s work on the cross. His righteousness is given to you. No longer does our Father see a manipulator, or adulterer, or hatemonger – He sees His Son, Who has clothed us in His righteousness.

I know this has probably hit a nerve, that some of you may be quite upset with me. And I get it – the Church, in general, has not done the best job of denouncing divorce in recent years, nor has She done a good job of upholding marriage, and helping husband and wife work through their struggles. And yes, I know that there are situations where divorce is all but inevitable, like instances of abuse or desertion. But we must call a thing what it is. God’s Word is clear: divorce is not a good thing. It is sin. But it is also clear that the broken and contrite heart of a divorcee will not be despised by our merciful and loving God. It is clear that this sin, like all others, is covered by the Blood of the Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world. It is clear that Jesus died for divorcees, as well. In Him, regardless of the sin we commit and confess, we are forgiven. I won’t apologize if you have felt the bitter sting of God’s Law convicting you of your sin. It’s a good thing – it has to hurt if it’s going to heal, so confess it! We are sinners, and we are not excused from our sin … no – far, far better than that, we are forgiven our sins in Christ!

+ In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Tags: Mark 10:2-16