Three Hard Words (Mark 10.1–31)

Mark 10.1–31 records three hard words of Jesus about divorce, childlikeness, and wealth.

Regarding divorce, Jesus said, “No!” Some Pharisees tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Alluding to Deuteronomy 24.1–4, the Pharisees answered, “Yes.” But Jesus was unsatisfied with their answer, so he responded: “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law. But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

In Jesus’ day, rabbinic schools interpreted the law’s permission to divorce loosely or tightly. Jesus, citing God’s creative purpose in marriage (Gen. 1.27, 2.24), obviously sided with the stricter reading of the law. Just to make sure that his disciples understood him, he said to them privately: “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”

Regarding childlikeness, Jesus said, “Yes!” The disciples tried to shoo away parents who were bringing their children to Jesus for a blessing. The disciples’ actions sprang from an exaggerated respect for their own self-importance, as well as a sad lack of respect for the last, the lost, and the least—here ably represented by children. Jesus rebuked them and said: “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

Finally, regarding wealth, Jesus said, “Give!” A rich young man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus answered, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The rich man was unwilling to do this, however, and walked away. His action prompted Jesus to say, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Do not divorce. Become like a child. Give away your wealth. These are hard words from Jesus’ lips. But why are they so hard? Because they reveal our hidden, secret desires: lust, pride, and envy. We want sex outside of marriage. We want power over others (like adults), not spiritual powerlessness and dependency (like children). We want more things than we currently have. Worse, we want all these things more than a vital relationship with God. But if we sought God, Jesus tells us, God would give us soft hearts capable of obeying these hard words. “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Jesus’ words are not the Bible’s only or even final words on divorce, childlikeness, and wealth. But they are important nonetheless, because they challenge who we are and invite us to become who God wants us to be.

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