Jesus Gathers the Most Vulnerable Into His Arms: Then and Now

Mark 10:12-16

I find I struggle for words today in the midst of this national conversation which cannot help but stir us up, some more viscerally than others.

Indeed, this is true. I have been shocked and yes, sickened, by much of what I have seen and heard played out on the national stage in these last days as our representatives in Washington seek to seat another Supreme Court Justice. Oh, I know that I can be naive and perhaps too much sheltered, too, but still… The experiences being remembered now come from my own generation and recount memories of the sort of trauma inflicted, about much of which I simply had no idea. Or rather, which I had the luxury of forgetting.  For I knew. If not right then, then not so many years after.

For this is so. It is a luxury to be able to forget, to set it aside and move on with the tasks of living and working which call me every day. I am so very fortunate to NOT be among the countless ones who can never forget, who carry within their very cells the memories, the experiences of having been violated by those who had no right. Who stole something beyond precious. Who in doing so, mock the name, the being, the intent, the hope, the love of the One who created us in love for love that does not take, but gives, for love which does not tear down but builds up, for love which protects and nurtures and honors and … Always.

And yes, this was going on in the time of Jesus, too, this sort of behavior which results from not seeing the other as beloved child of God, but instead acts as though the other was but an object to meet one’s own needs and desires, only finally to be cast aside as so much less than nothing. Indeed, in that time such as this was protected by laws surrounding divorce which allowed (mostly) men to marry and use and cast aside, leaving vulnerable and alone and at risk for further abuse (and worse, if that is even imaginable) the women with whom they were done. Today it is a legal system and a culture which still too often does not take seriously the stories women tell and which refuses to hold accountable those who would still violate and abuse and toss aside.

Now it is so that you and I find ourselves far distant in time and space from the exchange described today when once more the Pharisees tried to trip Jesus up with a ‘legal question’ which reflected some of what was most broken in the social fabric of that time. And yes, it is so very long ago and in some ways, seems at first hardly relevant in this time when divorce is commonplace and taken for granted in a way it was not done even a generation or two ago.  Indeed, I have preached long enough that I have seen how even Jesus’ seemingly hard words of judgment tying divorce to adultery have lost some of their sting when they are read from the pulpit on Sunday mornings. One would be hard pressed to find a family which has not experienced the pain of this somewhere in their gathering. No one is out of the reach of this particular form of brokenness and so, only with rare exception would one think to stand in judgment of another.

So this has changed, yes it has. But this has not: the underlying abuse of one human being by another, and the systems we live within which continue to advantage those in power over those not. For divorce happened in the time of Jesus, it did. And while Jesus clearly points to the fact that this is far afield from God’s intent for us, he is also going after the ‘hardness of hearts’ of those who were using the law to their own advantage. For oh, this has not changed: the fact that even now, even in this century in this seemingly far advanced civilization, human beings do still treat one another much as they did in the time of Jesus: as expendable, to be used and discarded. And yes, in the wake of recent national, public events and the conversations which are happening all around us, we cannot avoid the truth that this has not changed either: women (and children, too) are still used and cast aside, even as they were in the time of Jesus. Even here. Even now.

And while at first it may not seem like very much at all, we are left today with Jesus calling out this behavior for what it is: the total disregard of another human being cloaked in the respectability of the law of the time. And then we are left with this image: that of Jesus welcoming, and holding, and blessing the most vulnerable among us then and now: the children.

And so now in a time and a place when were are yearning for Good News, perhaps it is simply this:

  • How it is and seemingly always has been is not how it is meant to be.
  • This is not how God intended it and us to be.
  • And Jesus names that. He names it out loud to those who were among the power holders of his day.

Indeed, perhaps that is the gift of these days. That all around us people are naming out loud in their own heartbroken, heartbreaking words the ways in which their whole lives have been adulterated by the fact that another did not see them and treat them as the beloved child of God that they are. And yes this, that another (or others) used and abused, violated and cast aside the preciousness of their very being. Maybe the gift is that these stories are being told (and screamed and shouted) within earshot of those who have abused, or stood by and watched, or ignored and claimed not to know, or have had the luxury of being able to forget this happens at all  — so that we might all somehow stand together and fight for a world which more surely reflects the one God intended all along.

Where all people are seen as as gifts of God in their own right.

And where the most vulnerable — the children, yes — but also those made ever more vulnerable by their experience of being used and cast aside — are welcomed, protected, and loved.

I don’t know how we get to that world which Jesus points to now. I do know we don’t have a chance of finding our way if we do not simply stand still and listen to the ways in which our world is so very broken through the eyes, the hearts, the heartbreaking experiences of those who are living that brokenness every hour of every day.

I, for one, stand ready to listen and receive. So must we all, it seems to me. So must we all.

  • With these words in Mark, Jesus calls out into the open the injustice of his time which left women broken and vulnerable. Where and how are you and I called to do the same today?
  • My understanding of ‘adultery’ is that it is not only the example offered in today’s Gospel, but anything at all that has us living far afield from God’s intent for us. How does this understanding resonate in the world today? Beyond ‘divorce,’ what would you offer as an example or experience?
  • The image of Jesus gathering up the children has me imagining Jesus gathering up those most vulnerable among us — particularly now those whose memories have been rendered raw by the necessity of reliving their most traumatic moments in these last days. What do you think? Who among us most needs the safety of that divine embrace? And what does it look like, what does it mean for you and I to extend it in Jesus’ name?
  • The National Sexual Assault Hotline number is 1-800-656-4673. If you have need of it, use it. If not, pass it along. Indeed, may we continue to hold close in prayer those whose suffering is ongoing. And may we keep on seeking to shape a world where such a hotline is no longer necessary.

3 comments

  1. (Rev) Marcia Hardy says:

    Thank you for these heartfelt words Janet! We may be far away in miles but down here in my country, New Zealand, we women have been talking to each other wherever we’ve come together, about the issues of abuse and exploitation which we are hearing about, with the same feelings you describe. We are praying that our strong independent daughters will be able to stand up to the kind of abuse which we kept silent about.

    May God bless your work

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