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Mark’s first-century biography – page 28

And he (Jesus of Nazareth, c. AD 30) left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them. 

“As was his custom, he taught them”. Mark records 17 separate occasions when Jesus “taught” - and 12 events where he was addressed as “Teacher”.

And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to dismiss his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to dismiss her.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall be one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, man must not separate.” 
This reminds us of recent UK discussions about no-fault divorce, something which has been law in Jersey for many years. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were keen to maintain that a man (not a woman) was permitted to dismiss his wife without giving any reason.  By law they could “write a certificate of divorce and … dismiss her”. But what was Jesus’ position on that?

Jesus responded not with a law or a new interpretation but with the original intention of God. Male and female. Glued into one flesh. 

And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he stated to them, “Whoever dismisses his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she dismisses her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” 

It seems that the disciples desperately needed clarity. When a split occurred who then was, in Jesus’ sight, “the adulterer”? The answer was explicit. In God’s sight the adulterer was the one, male or female, who did the dismissing and married another. That person’s heart was not right before God.

‘Every guilty person is his own hangman.’ (Seneca, Roman philosopher, BC 4 – AD 65)
We aren’t told what the followers of Jesus thought of this response. Instead, they showed another aspect of what their hearts were really like by their behaviour towards children.

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “You must permit the children to come to me; you must not hinder them, for certainly those like these are the kingdom of God.”

It seems that the hearts of the disciples were also very hard – hard enough to justify a proper telling-off for them by an indignant Jesus. But why did Jesus want the children to come to him? Were children illustrative of others who also longed to be part of the kingdom of heaven – who wanted to experience the touch of Jesus? “Certainly, those like these are the kingdom of God….”

The Greek verb Jesus used translated “permit” (aphiemi) is often translated “forgive”. Jesus may well have said, “You must forgive the children to come to me; you must not hinder them, for certainly those like these are the kingdom of God.”

Is it possible that a person who had dismissed the other half of a marriage and married another – an adulterer in God’s sight – could come to Jesus like a child? A child had nothing to bring to Jesus – nothing. A child could only come in that way. And Jesus wanted that to become well known. It was his teaching.

‘Nothing in my hands I bring,/ Simply to Thy cross I cling;/ Naked, come to Thee for dress,/ Helpless, look to Thee for grace:/ Foul, I to the fountain fly,/ Wash me, Saviour, or I die..’ (Augustus Toplady, hymn writer, 1740-1778)
“Truly, I state to you, whoever may not take hold of the kingdom of God like a child shall not come in into it.” 

In order to clarify things beyond doubt, having taught the positive Jesus then taught the negative. He made it clear that coming to him other than as a child (bringing nothing to him) will be absolutely useless. 

And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. 

The kingdom of heaven is, in fact, those who have brought nothing to Jesus but who have come to him and asked to be taken up into his arms and to be blessed by him.

Sinner Syvret

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