Philip Ruge-Jones cautions preachers who tackle Mark 10:2-16 in their sermons on Sunday. “As soon as you read the word ‘divorce’ aloud, a whole sermon will appear in people’s heads. Some will hear early sermons that were launched at them or someone they loved when a divorce occurred. Pain will make it difficult to hear the words you actually speak. Others will conjure up their condemnation of others based on this single word.”
I’m a bit unnerved as I think of preaching for our community this Sunday. These words of Jesus will be tough for those whose lives have been touched by divorce and/or remarriage to hear. The Pharisees want him to speak about the law’s allowances concerning divorce, but Jesus will not play such games with them. He draws their attention back to creation, where God gives marriage to the human in order to bless them, not as a way to introduce heartache and strife.
Ultimately, the Pharisees did not raise the question of divorce with Jesus because they were concerned about husbands, wives, and children. They broached this subject with him in order that they may test him (v. 2). Therefore, it is the sin of self-righteousness that is ultimately exposed in this passage, and it will be the sin of self-righteousness that will receive the “fire and brimstone treatment” at First Lutheran this Sunday, not divorce.
If you come to this text feeling condemned and exposed, it is my hope you are reassured in the forgiveness, love, and mercy Jesus has for you after you hear the sermon. If Jesus’ condemnation of divorce causes you to feel proud and arrogant in your own ability to “keep the law,” then I hope God will use my sermon to expose your self-righteousness and your need, too, for a Savior. Married or divorced, single or widowed, we all have that—a blessed, gracious Savior—in Jesus Christ.
Pastor Katherine Olson