Bible Study September 24 for Worship October 7

Bible Study September 24 for Worship October 7

Mark 10:2  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 put her away.”

5  But Jesus said to them, “For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.

6  But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’

7  ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined 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 put asunder.”

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 upon them.

COMMENTARY

Our scripture today is a reminder of the extremely low status of women in the First Century.  Women had almost no legal rights.  They were considered to be the property of men, first their fathers and then their husbands.  A woman ranked just a cut above a mule or a slave.  A mule could be killed.  A slave could be abused but not killed.  A wife was supposed to suffer in silence.

In ancient Israel a man could have more than one wife, and prostitution was legal, so the desire for sexual variety was not a compelling reason for divorce.  If a woman burned her husband’s supper, however, that was considered adequate grounds for divorce.  And divorce was easy.  All the man had to do was say three times:  “I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you,” and have a scribe write out a “bill of divorce,” and the woman was on her own.  She had no rights to property from the marriage, no rights to her children from the marriage.  She was simply out with the clothes on her back.  The “bill of divorce” was her proof that she was no longer married, and so she could return to her father’s house, or she could start making her living in one of the only ways left to her – prostitution.  In developing his approach to divorce, Jesus uses Genesis 2:24:  Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Women figure prominently in the ministry of Jesus.  Luke in particular records that “the ministry,” was being bankrolled by several wealthy women:

Luke 8:And the twelve were with him,

2  and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,

3  and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.

The person of Mary Magdalene certainly looms large even in the canonical gospels.  In the Gospel of John, she is the first person to witness the resurrected Christ.  She is there at the cross in all of the Gospels and at the empty tomb.  Many non-canonical gospels, especially the Gospel of James, grant Mary Magdalene a much more prominent role in the circle of Jesus followers, even claiming that Jesus considered her equal to or even superior to his male disciples.  Karen King, a professor at Harvard has even come forward recently with a 4th Century snatch of papyrus from Egypt purporting to refer to Jesus’ “wife.” 

Jesus was concerned about the status of women in his society, and so when he was asked about the law concerning divorce, he sided with the women.  Essentially he was saying, in a society in which women have no economic options, if you marry a woman, you must continue to provide for her, even if the relationship sours.

What would Jesus say about divorce in 20th century America?  Our situation is so far removed from 1st century Israel, trying to apply trying to apply Mark 10:2-12 in our modern context is fraught with difficulty.  For one thing many divorces are initiated by women, who no longer wish to be married, and forcing them to remain in a loveless or even abusive relationship is not what Jesus intended.  The key to understanding how we might apply Jesus’ intent to our modern context is to try to sort out what is a fair and equitable financial arrangement, when a marriage dissolves.  Currently we have way too many children living in poverty, because they have been abandoned by their fathers.

And maybe that is why the lectionary included verses 13-16, where Jesus says, “Let the children come to me.”  Jesus’ ministry was notable, because he included women as his followers and because he reached out to children another disenfranchised segment of his society.  Perhaps what we need to carry away from of scripture this morning is that Jesus reached out to, embraced, lifted up the nobodies.  Women and children did not count in his world, and Jesus affirmed their worth.  The affirmation of the disenfranchised helps to explain the amazing growth of the early church in the Roman Empire among women and slaves.  In Paul’s letter to Philemon we see Paul intervening with a Christian Master to free his slave Onesimus.  Similarly in several of Paul’s authentic letters we see women described as apostles, deaconesses, and other offices within the early church.  It was only after the church adopted a more conservative message and organization in the second century to appeal to the men of the Empire, that women were put in their place, and slaves were counseled to “be obedient to your masters.”

Jesus was a social revolutionary who was subverting the male dominated hierarchy of his culture.  He also sided with the poor over against the rich.  He advocated for women and children.

LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT

1. Who ask Jesus the question in our scripture lesson?

2. What was Jesus’ initial response to his questioners?

3. What was the law according to Jesus’ questioners?

4. What explanation did Jesus offer for the law as outlined by Moses?

5. What new teaching did Jesus offer on the matter?

6. What scripture did Jesus cite as a midrash in developing his teaching about divorce?

7. According to this passage what is the consequence of divorcing and remarrying?

8. Who were bringing children to Jesus?

9. Who were trying to keep the children away from Jesus?

10. How are disciples supposed to “receive” the Kingdom of God?

LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US

1. In our current culture, what do you think the church should teach about divorce?

2. In what areas of your life do you experience “hardness of heart?”

3. Do you think Jesus’ midrash from Genesis was good scriptural interpretation?

4. What problems do you see accompanying “serial marriage?”

5. How do you think our society should protect children involved in divorce or abandonment?

6. Do you still think women need protection in divorce proceedings?

7. Do you think the church does a good job of welcoming children?

8. Does the church still have a need to advocate for the least in our society?

9. Do you think the church should primarily be concerned for the “job creators,” or the 47%?

10. What do you think it means to “receive” the Kingdom of God like a child?

Week of October 1 – October 7:  Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost – Mark 10:2-16 – Enfolding Love – World Wide Communion Sunday and Neighbors in Need – Job 1:1; 2:1-10, Psalm 26, Genesis 2:18-24, Psalm 8, Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12.

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