OCTOBER 7, 2018
TEXT: MARK 10.2-16
Another student chimed in, “It doesn’t make much difference how we look at the Ten Commandments anyway, Jesus told us that the minute we break one of them, we’re guilty of breaking all of them.”
In conversations with young people or older people, when our concern centers in the commandments, it soon becomes apparent that the setting in which these sacred words are seen is that of a courtroom. In this courtroom, we stand beneath the awesome authority of a Supreme Judge seated in solitary splendor high above the heavens. In this courtroom there is no jury made up of people like us who may sympathize with our human frailty. God alone will judge our case. He has made it clear that when we break one of his commandments, we stand guilty of breaking all of them.
When this is the setting in which Christian people see the Ten Commandments, then, like the Pharisees in our Gospel for today, we spend our time looking for loopholes in the Law. Some of these men came to Jesus one day with the question, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
Jesus responded, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.”
Our Lord could easily have demolished their shallow, self-centered interpretation of what Moses commanded in the Book of Deuteronomy. Moses spoke out of love; these people saw his words as a loophole in the Law. Moses wrote in behalf of mercy; the Pharisees manipulated his words to justify what they wanted to do without mercy.
Jesus could see it would not be enough to win a debate. More decisive action was required. The Pharisees of every age must be shown, once and for all, that there are no loopholes in God’s law. He took them beyond the commandments and back to creation. When two people are united in marriage, they become one. “Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Even Jesus’ disciples were disturbed by these blunt words. All of us can understand their concern. Instinctively, we would like to find some loopholes through which we could crawl out of a difficult situation without feeling guilty about it. There is no way out. Jesus told his disciples, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” In our Lord’s day, adultery was punishable by death.
Listening to our Gospel today, if you were asked to name two commandments which are of most importance, which ones would you choose? Over the centuries, whenever the church has placed the commandments within the setting of a courtroom, great importance has been given to these words, “You shall not commit adultery” and “You shall not steal.”
People who broke these commandments were harshly condemned. Idolatry, profanity, failure to keep the Sabbath, dishonoring parents, lying or coveting were more easily excused. There have been times when the church has deliberately broken the commandment, “You shall not murder” to justify itself in the fight against heresy. It is also a sad part of our history to admit that when the charge was adultery, women have been more severely condemned than men.
Against this background, there are three things we need to keep clearly in our minds. The first is this: on that day in our Lord’s ministry, the conversation with him revolved around marriage, divorce, and adultery. This conversation could have applied to any of the commandments, and the conclusion would have been just the same! There are no loopholes in God’s law.
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Rom. 3.23) Paul wrote to the Romans. Whenever a person tries to justify themselves by the law, by the law will they be condemned.
The second item is this: whenever, like those Pharisees, we place the Ten Commandments within the setting of a courtroom, then we have set aside the Gospel. To live by the Gospel is to see the Ten Commandments, not in terms of a courtroom, but rather in terms of a courtship. These commandments become the guidelines within which this courtship between God and us can be carried out.
People in love do try to find loopholes in the commitments they make toward each other during courtship. Imagine two people whose wedding date has been set saying to each other: Darling, once we are married we shall spend our lives together. Between now and our wedding day, I want to be free to give my devotion to someone else. I want you’re your permission to say whatever I want about you. Only occasionally do I want to see you between now and then. Don’t expect me to be faithful to you until we are married. I want to be free to cheat and lie and covet whatever pleases me. Once we are married, then I will mind my manners.
Obviously, in the wake of such a conversation, the courtship would end abruptly. No human being in their right mind would put up with that kind of arrangement.
I said there were three things which needed to be heard today. The fact we must face is that God has been putting up with this kind of courtship over all the centuries of human history! We have said to him: Lord, I want to be with you in heaven when Christ, the Bridegroom, takes the church, his bride, to be with him forever. But, for now, Lord, I hope you will understand if I have other gods, and profane your name, and forget your day, and dishonor my parents. I want to be loved even when I hurt other people physically, when I am sexually irresponsible, when I steal and lie and covet. Lord, I am like the apostle Paul. In my inmost self, I want to do what is right, but day by day, I discover that what I do is what I hate.
Under these conditions, we would assume that the courtship would be over, and God would simply forget about us. Yet, the courtship has continued across the centuries. Our Lord’s love goes beyond our understanding. We violate every basic guideline for an honorable courtship. In response, he gave his Son to fulfill the law for us that we might be forgiven and reconciled to him once more. When Jesus had this conversation with the Pharisees, he was on his way to Jerusalem to suffer and die for us.
Walking with him on the way to that cross, we discover something of the depths of his love. When the Pharisees and the disciples talked to him about marriage and divorce and adultery, he did not become angry. It was nothing new for him to be confronted by people who were trying to find loopholes in the law. But when the disciples tried to prevent some people from bringing their little children to him, then Jesus became indignant. He had to make it absolutely clear there are no loopholes in his love either! There is no one here, no matter how young or old you are, how rich or poor, how pious or profane, whether you are single, married, divorced, or widowed, even if you are living in open rebellion against God, you are still not living beyond the boundaries of his love. If you want to respond to his unfailing love, then stop trying to justify yourself in terms of the law. No person can do that. God offers his love to us as a gift of grace. To receive the gift of his love, we must become like children. We don’t pretend to deserve so great a gift. We simply open our hearts and lives to receive it openly, freely, enthusiastically, with praise and thanksgiving.
To love him is to keep his commandments as faithfully as you can. When you fail, you confess your sins. He has already paid the price for your forgiveness. Then strive again, in response to his love, to find your freedom within the guidelines of his law. Christ summarized the commandments for us when he said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22. 37, 39).
The good news for today takes out of a courtroom and into a courtship. We discover there are no loopholes in God’s law. We also discover there are no loopholes in his love. Amen.