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“AND THE LITTLE CHILDREN SHALL LEAD THEM”

MARK 10:2-16

 

10:2  Some Pharisees came, and to test him they 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 dismissal and to divorce her."

5  But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.

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  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."

10  Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter.

11  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  People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them.

14  But 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.

15  Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it."

16  And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

 

Sometimes love isn’t easy.  It isn’t easy to love when someone really hurts your feelings. One woman found it hard to love one day when she received some unexpected news. After 17 years of marriage her husband suddenly announced that he was leaving her for a younger woman.  Since their luxury condo was in his name he told her that he wanted to live there with the new love of his life. The husband did promise to buy the wife another condo.  Well, after she got over the initial shock the wife agreed but asked that she be given three days to pack up her things.  The husband thought that was reasonable so he agreed.  After he left the wife spent the first day lovingly putting her belongings into boxes and suitcases.  On the second day the movers came and took all her belongings away. On the third day the wife sat down at their dining room table for a final candlelight dinner.  With soft music playing in the background she feasted on shrimp and a bottle of Chardonnay.  Then when she was finished she went into each room and carefully deposited a few of the left over shrimp shells into the hollows of the curtain rods.  She then cleaned up the kitchen and left. The next day the husband came back with the new love of his life.  For the first few days all was blissful. Then it started; slowly but surely.  Clueless, the couple couldn’t figure out why the place smelled so bad.  They tried everything they could think of to solve the problem. They cleaned and mopped and aired the place out.  They checked the vents for dead rodents, carpets were steam cleaned, air fresheners were hung everywhere.  They brought in exterminators, the carpets were eventually replaced. Finally, they couldn’t take it any longer and decided to move.  The moving company came in and did a very professional job packing and taking everything to their new home…including the curtain rods.

 

Sometimes it’s hard to love and you know what’s really strange? Sometimes the hardest people to love are the people who are closest to you.  Jesus knew that.  It’s obvious from the way he handled the question that the Pharisees brought to him while on his way to Jerusalem.  The Pharisees didn’t waste any time getting to the point.  They walked up to the teacher and asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

Marriage and divorce, that’s a question that a lot of people wrestle with these days. Unfortunately, the statistics aren’t very encouraging.  Those discouraging statistics actually led to a clever conversation one day between an Englishman and his American friend.  The Englishman smiled and said, “I see the divorce rate in your country is climbing. I guess it’s true that America really is the land of the free.”  “That’s true,” the American replied, “but it’s also true that a lot of those people are getting remarried which just goes to show you that America is still the home of the brave.”

 

Sometimes the hardest people to love are the people who are closest to you.

A husband or a wife has an affair and the marriage comes to an end.

A rich aunt dies and everyone in the family fights over who gets what.

A parent finds out that a child is gay and doesn’t speak to him for years.

Best friends get into a silly little argument and it gets bigger and bigger as time goes by.

 

Isn’t it amazing how people who love each other can suddenly stop loving each other?

That’s why Jesus reacted the way he did when the Pharisees came to him with their question.  The conversation was about marriage and divorce but it’s a conversation that can really help us with all our broken relationships.

 

The Pharisees asked the question because they wanted the freedom to be able to get rid of their wives. They also asked the question because they wanted to get rid of Jesus.  You see their question was designed to get Jesus into trouble. John the Baptist had already had his head cut off because he had the audacity to criticize Herod for divorcing his wife.  Herod divorced his wife and then got rid of his brother so he could marry his wife.  So, when the Pharisees asked Jesus their question they clearly had a hidden agenda.  They were hoping that Jesus would say something that would also get him into trouble with Herod.

 

By the way, shortly after Jesus answered the Pharisees’ question he had to deal with another broken relationship. You see that other broken relationship in the way the disciples reacted when all those parents started bringing their children to Jesus.  The disciples told them to go away. Why did the disciples do that?  They did it because they didn’t want to share Jesus with all those giggling children and gurgling babies. They were jealous. They wanted Jesus all to themselves.

 

So, after everything was said and done this is what we know. The Pharisees wanted Jesus to put his stamp of approval on their broken relationships. The disciples wanted to break up any chance of a relationship between Jesus and all those children. Why? Because, Jesus said, they were all suffering from a hardness of heart.

 

Jesus knew that behind every broken relationship you’ll find a little hardness of heart.  That’s because when you have a hardened heart you tend to be a little stubborn and selfish. You tend to be a little self-righteous and short tempered.

 

That’s why Jesus gathered those children around him that day and then issued the disciples an ultimatum and a challenge.

 

The ultimatum is one that you’ve heard many times.  “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”  Jesus then challenged the disciples with some other words that you’ve heard many times.  “Truly, I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 

 

Now, it’s true that children can be a little selfish, stubborn and short tempered themselves from time to time. Children though also have an innate ability to look for the good in others and love unconditionally. Children have an innate ability to give and forgive. They can be sad when they’ve done something wrong and say they’re sorry. Deep down children want to be connected to the people around them.  They don’t see the differences that divide people.  It doesn’t matter to them if someone is black or white.  It doesn’t matter to them if someone has a PhD from Harvard or is an illiterate immigrant.  It doesn’t matter to them if someone is a Democrat or a Republican. It doesn’t matter to them if someone has tons of money or is dirt poor.  They can love all of those people just the same.

 

Jesus knew that behind every broken relationship you’ll find a little hardness of heart.  He also knew that behind every grace filled relationship you’ll find a simple child like love. That belief can be seen in a wonderful poem I came across this past week.  It’s called “Let The Children In” and it goes like this:

 

There's something quite nice about children.   Every family should have one or two
They're such a fine race when they're kept in their place:
Say, the playground, the park or the zoo.
-
In his place, a child's quite delightful; full of fun, a most interesting buddy.
But his yearning for action can cause a distraction
When he runs into the peace of your study.
-
The office is no place for the children.  They foul up our work with their fun.
So we make it a rule that they must go to school 

So their elders can get something done.
-
Some children came searching for Jesus. His friends were distressed and inclined
"Oh, how sad it would be and terrible to see a fresh parable
Slip out of His mind!"

-

So they tried to get rid of the children, surely no major disgrace,
Protecting the Master, from certain disaster.
By keeping the children in place.
-
"Let the children come in!" shouted Jesus, then he said something frightfully odd:
"They’re bearers of grace, And their ultimate place

Is right smack in the Kingdom of God."
-
Well, the place of a child is the Kingdom. That's what Jesus carefully taught.
So, the last time you did play, some ball with your kid,
You were closer to God than you thought.

 

You know what.  Maybe we’ve got it all wrong.  When someone is suffering from a little hardness of heart we often say that the person needs to grow up.  We often say the person needs to grow up and to stop being so stubborn or selfish, so self-righteous or short tempered.  Instead of tell the person to grow up maybe what we need to do is to turn back the clocks and become a child again.  The next time you’re wrestling with a broken relationship or a relationship that is getting close to the breaking point remember how Jesus gathered the children around him that day.  “Truly, I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”    Amen.

 

Rev. Dr. Richard A. Hughes

October 8, 2006