This passage is problematic – it talks about divorce. And uses the “a” word – adultery. Statistics vary, but with 50% of marriages end. Know full well that this could mean 50% of the adult folks sitting the pews might be on their second or third marriage.
And here’s where the conversation gets really difficult. Jesus calls it as he sees it – adultery. And those who remarry? Yeah…adultery. And the 10 commandments? “You shall not commit adultery”. We just can’t get around this.
What was happening in the 1st century that the fear-driven Pharisees felt compelled to come and test Jesus? As if they could really test Jesus and expect to get an answer that they, in the end, would like? Jesus spoke so strongly about divorce and adultery. He knew the outcome left women and children on the outside of society looking in, or in today’s terms, sorted out.
In the first century there were two schools of thought – Shammai and Hillel. One conservative, the other more liberal. Hillel, the more lenient of the two gave “burning the toast” as grounds divorce.1 The first century was no different than today. Divorce erodes society, leaving women and children vulnerable.
In the early 19th century the saying went: “Children should be seen and not heard.” But in the 1st century not only should children not be heard but rarely should they even be seen. The same went for women. Many Jesus stories are about women and children being silenced in one way or another.
Jesus was all about serving those that society valued the least. In the 1st century as well as in the 21st century there is an intolerance for the vulnerable. What was going on then, is the same thing that is going on now, we are sorting ourselves out into factions, eroding society in the process and dehumanizing those who needed fellow humanity the most.
“People were bringing children to [Jesus] in order that he might touch them…” Mark 10:13
Jesus came to reclaim the connection for the least, the last, the lost, the lonely, and the left behind. Women and children in numbers too many to comprehend fit into those categories. Jesus did this through invitation, he always chastised the disciples for trying to send them away, touching and seeing.
We are a social species. That’s why connection matters, why shame is so painful and debilitation and why we’re wired for belonging.3
Jesus saw people – really saw people for who they were. If only we could do the same. We’ve hunkered down where we participate in information bias, where we dehumanize others out of fear, where we’ve sorted ourselves into us and them, in and out.
Just like Jesus sought reconnection for those who were cast aside through the pain of an unfair divorce, children who were told not to come near, women who were told to be quiet, we too as Christians are called to make connections in places that we don’t necessarily want to.
The first step is seeing – really seeing those around us and seeing ourselves as well. And to listen. Really listen seeking understanding and not reacting out of fear. And that is what stops us. The fear that perhaps we might be wrong after all. If we listen for understanding rather than to make someone change who they are, then we just may find the connection that we all need.
We need to be the people who believe that loving and making connection across difference can change everything. As Brene Brown stated in her book, “We have to find our way back to one another or fear wins.”4
And as Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me and do not stop them.”
And Jesus took the children up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. Because he saw them. He really saw them.
1World and World, Vol. 14, No. 3 Summer 1994, Luther Seminary, St. Paul MN. “The Way of the Cross: Markan Texts for Late Pentecost” by Donald H. Juel, page 356-358.
2Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, page 59.
3Ibid. page 53.
4Ibid. page 59