Even after all these years of going around and around with the cycles of Gospel readings, I am still and always drawn up short by this one.
Oh, one cannot argue with the truth of what is spoken here. Without a doubt, God does not intend that what is meant to be such gift should end in such sorrow, that what is meant to be faithful, too often ends in betrayal, that what is meant for our mutual growth, can take us down a path where we are consumed by regret or shame or searing pain or overwhelming fear. Indeed, God does not intend it and only the very most cynical or broken among us would intend it either.
And yes, this hasn’t really changed that when these words are read they are read often to the profound discomfort of those whose lives have been marked and shaped by such as this. Some among us feel singled out. Indeed, more and more of us, I expect, for if not us, then certainly someone we love find these words speaking of their, of our perhaps deepest wounds.
- And so it is this time through, I am wondering at the Pharisees and why it is in their attempt to trip Jesus up they approach him with a question which cuts so close to the human heart.
- One that points to such profound brokenness which so often (or so it seems to me) has its roots in all that has gone before and that can surely impact generations to come.
Indeed, why this, Pharisees?
- Does this question find its roots in some actual wondering on their part?
- Does it find its source in the complexity of it — in their awareness that in the midst of human hope and struggle, those charged with such matters sought compromise along the way?
- Or is it just the utter callousness of those who have never had their hearts so broken that leads them to take this particular path as they confront Jesus now?
And oh, we cannot possibly know, of course. And while we cannot argues with Jesus now as he seeks to point to the wholeness God intends for us in our most intimate human relationships, we are also aware that even now in this time when this particular path may be more common than ever before, these words do still cause shame to those whose brokenness is often only more publicly apparent than the rest of us may bear. And indeed, how often have we let that shame go even deeper in our silence, or in our avoidance, and yes, sometimes in our shunning which forces all the more distant those who surely would benefit from a word of kindness or acceptance now more than ever before.
I do not know. But I do know this. After Jesus reiterates the obvious about God’s intent for us, he moves us quickly from what we do or do not do and invites us, instead, to consider who we ARE.
Indeed, in those next moments he observes the disciples sorting out who belongs in the presence of Jesus and who does not and he intervenes, reminding them and us that everyone belongs and those the disciples (and perhaps you and I as well) think least worthy of being there, belong there most of all.
And he does this by welcoming children. And in doing so he has the disciples, and you and me, and perhaps even those Pharisees so long ago, reconsidering who is in and who is out and how we, all of us, are invited now to regard the world and all those who inhabit it with they eyes and the hearts of children.
And of course, we cannot know exactly what Jesus would have us emulate in the small ones now, but I imagine it would be at least this:
- That we would be those who know, who always know, our vulnerability and need of protection and care. Regardless of how we fit into the world’s categories of brokenness and wholeness, public or not.
- And surely, we would be those who hold a posture which is less likely to sort people out by our most public failings. Which is not yet capable of comprehending such as this at all.
We cannot know, of course, whether these two things happened in just the sequence in which Mark shares them here, but I am going with that now. That in the wake of what can be a hard teaching, Jesus seizes the first opportunity handed him to urge us all to consider again who is welcome and what it means to lean into Jesus in great trust for what we need, no matter what the world says about us or knows about us or how it judges us.
And yes, I think that goes for the disciples. And the Pharisees. And anyone else listening in. And certainly all of us.
Indeed, it is a whole other kind of kingdom Jesus is calling out in us now and inviting us to enter.
One that is not earned but given.
One where children, where all of us, who, simply leaning into our trust of the One who has given us all that we are, are welcome.
- As you know by now, I have not offered a particular story this week. This is because, it seems to me, this story of brokenness and judgment and sorting out who is welcome is all around us all the time. It seems to me that one could land just about anywhere and enter into the challenge of this part of Mark’s Gospel. Indeed, I wonder what comes to mind as you hear it now. And I wonder this as well:
- Why do you think the Pharisees pose the question they do?
- What do you make of the reading before us now? Why do these two things which seem to have so little to do with one another find themselves following one after the other?
- What does it mean to you that the ‘kingdom of God belongs to children?’ As for me, I hear this as a question of vulnerability and trust (which the Pharisees display little of today). What comes to mind for you?