A Hard Saying

By Ed Little

A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 10:1-16

1 He left that place and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan. And crowds again gathered around him; and, as was his custom, he again taught them.

2 Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 5But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6But 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, 8and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.


“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” The Pharisees’ question to Jesus is insincere.  They aren’t seeking God’s will; rather, they want to put Jesus on the spot, make him look ridiculous and unschooled. But Jesus’ response at once unmasks their motives and points instead to God’s purposes. “What did Moses command you?” Jesus asks. The Pharisees reply with the letter of the law. Jesus, however, delves more deeply. Marriage, he tells them, is rooted in God’s sovereign act in calling humankind into existence in the beginning. “Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Marriage, Jesus says, is not merely a social and economic contract, to be set aside when convenient. Later in the passage, in a private moment with his disciples, Jesus even more expressly forbids divorce. Marriage is sacred, its bond is unbreakable, and couples commit themselves to each other for life. This is, to be sure, one of the “hard” sayings of Jesus. Everyone reading this reflection can think of tragic situations in which, for reasons often agonizing and always heartbreaking, a marriage dies. Christians at once affirm the marriage bond and its indissoluble nature, while also throwing themselves on God’s limitless mercy when that bond frays or breaks. Jesus, our “merciful and faithful high priest,” knows our frailty from the inside, so to speak (Heb. 2:17).

The passage and its grounding in the Old Testament points us to an essential corollary.  The union of husband and wife is a sign of Christ’s union with his Church (Eph. 5:31-32). Our Lord’s “high” doctrine of marriage — a bond that is emotional, physical, and spiritual, rooted in creation — has a profound impact on the way that Jesus makes himself known to the world.

The Rt. Rev. Edward S. Little II was bishop of Northern Indiana for 16 years after serving parishes in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Joaquin. He is the author of three books; most recently: The Heart of a Leader: St. Paul as Mentor, Model, and Encourager (2020).

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Today we pray for:

The Diocese of Angola (Anglican Church of Southern Africa)
The Consortium for Christian Unity, Louisville, Ky.


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