The gospel reading (Mark 10:2-16), especially in its first part (divorce, etc.) seems to contain a whole lot of Law and not a whole lot of grace. Especially for those in our congregations who have experienced separation/divorce, etc.
And yet, I don’t feel it’s faithful to the text we’ve been given to skip to the warm fuzzy part of Jesus welcoming the children, and only talk about that. To paraphrase Martin Marty from a few years ago, we need to preach through difficult texts, not around them.
So, with that in the background, I’m offering the following:
Instead of approaching this text as a description of what God “wants” from this broken creation, or understanding it as a direct quote for the mouth of Jesus (which, of course, must then be “obeyed”), might we instead approach this text as a parable? As a parable, not from Jesus, but from Mark?
It seems to me that a consistent theme throughout this reading (including the warm fuzzy part), especially if we read it as a parable, is the theme of power and its mis-use. According to Mark, for a man to divorce his spouse, all he had to do was fill out a sheet of paper saying “You’re not welcome anymore.” She did not have that right. She had no power. The hubby had it all.
But, lest we think that Jesus is saying spouses should have that power equally, and then everything would be wonderful, we get the explanation to the disciples later on. In this section, Jesus says that neither party can unilaterally cut the other one off. Equality does not mean everyone has the same power. In this case, it means everyone has the same vulnerability.
Suddenly it makes sense that Mark would follow this up with a story of Jesus welcoming the children (especially given that the disciples try to exert power over them by keeping these unimportant people away from the important one, i.e. Jesus). Kids had no say in virtually anything; they were the epitome of vulnerability. So who does Jesus embrace?
So. We are left, not with a rule about refusing to allow any marriage to break up at any time; we are left with a parable about power and its mis-use, and the call to embrace our shared vulnerability.
Which I experienced last night at the local commemoration for missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
The official commemorations were done, but it hadn’t taken very long, and people felt no desire to leave right away, so it turned into a sharing circle.
At one point, I asked to speak. I said it was important for me to be there, representing the church, as an act of repentance, since the church has far too often aligned itself with the powerful, and as a supporter of the status quo. I said this is inappropriate, and it’s not the people of the power structures with whom we should be standing.
A while later, a woman, a Mi’kmaq woman who led part of the evening, said (still in the circle), “I want to thank you for saying what you said. It means a lot to me, because my mother was a survivor of a Residential School.”
I couldn’t help but think of the story from Mark. When one “side” claims all the power, and exercises it over others, life is not as God desires. When we share a mutual vulnerability, we learn to live together, and all the children can begin to find a welcome.