Gospel for 19th Sunday After Pentecost
2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” 5 And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
13 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.
No, she would not be coming back. She knew what “they” would say. Her pastor had not seen in her in church since her divorce had been made public. Their marriage had been strained for some time. They had made it final. He had dropped by to check on her and urge her to come to worship. He knew that once she did attend a few times, she would be able to keep going, but that first time would be difficult for her.
She was right, there probably would be talk. In fact, not long ago, even though her own marriage was not always good, she would have been one of those to whisper in small groups. She knew what she was talking about.
Do you see the three groups in this reading today? There are the divorcees, the children, and the disciples. But in fact, there are truly only two groups. Jesus had no illusions about the innocence of children. If you have spent any time with children, even little children, you know too. They are not innocent, rather they are helpless and vulnerable. The divorcees Jesus describes are helpless and vulnerable too. They cannot do anything to fix this situation, not really. Jesus says they are guilty of adultery. Did you notice there are no exceptions cited here? In the Torah, adultery is a stonable offence. Jesus wants them to feel that helplessness before their sin. Not because he wants them to stay there but because he opens his arms to helpless sinners, people who cannot solve their sin problems. Like little children he welcomes them into his arms. The divorcees and the children are the same.
If we thought it was strictly about failed marriages, we would do well to remember ourselves in this reading. We, like children, are all helpless. And we are helpless before our sin. The older I get the more my memory reminds me of my helplessness. It could be a song, a smell, or an image that awakens our memories of joys and sorrows, and of brokenness. Augustine in his Confessions, says about memory “There I meet myself, and recall what I am.” Think about the prayer in Psalm 25:7, “Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me.” Some things we would like forgotten, by ourselves and others, other memories give our lives joy and meaning.
How I wish that those women who would have talked had instead come to visit this woman in her grief and heartache, shared their own struggles, their own memories, and their own grief. How I wish that they had invited their friend to come with them so that each of them could take their own broken lives to confession and absolution in that church.
Tomorrow in worship, at the Eucharist, you will receive that invitation once again. As you remember yourself ‘into’ the gospel lesson, consider saying and singing our first communion hymn, as a prayer for yourself. Coming forward with open empty hands to receive Jesus’ mercies in body given and blood shed, we too are the little children….
Day by Day 1 Day by day, your mercies, Lord, attend me, bringing comfort to my anxious soul. Day by day, the blessings, Lord, you send me draw me nearer to my heav’nly goal. Love divine, beyond all mortal measure, brings to naught the burdens of my quest; Savior, lead me to the home I treasure, where at last I’ll find eternal rest. 2 Day by day, I know you will provide me strength to serve and wisdom to obey; I will seek your loving will to guide me o’er the paths I struggle day by day. I will fear no evil of the morrow, I will trust in your enduring grace. Savior, help me bear life’s pain and sorrow till in glory I behold your face. 3 Oh, what joy to know that you are near me when my burdens grow too great to bear; oh, what joy to know that you will hear me when I come, O Lord, to you in prayer. Day by day, no matter what betide me, you will hold me ever in your hand. Savior, with your presence here to guide me, I will reach at last the promised land. Text: Carolina Sandell Berg, 1832-1903; tr. Robert Leaf, b. 1936
Today’s “a devotion for you…” is edited, revised and adapted, with permission, from original content from colleague and friend, Phil Brandt.