October 7, 2018 – 20 Pentecost B, Proper 22
Genesis 2:18-24; Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ comforts the afflicted. The Gospel of Jesus Christ afflicts the comfortable. Today we get a little of both.
“Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” We hear those words most every Sunday as part of what our tradition calls “the comfortable words.” Those familiar words from Jesus are so refreshing and so needed in our lives. And honestly, that’s what draws many people to the Episcopal Church. Maybe better than any other church we share that refreshing outlook on the love of God. So many have been abused by religion. After they heal a little some of them come to us looking for something new. We don’t hammer people over the head with a strict and legalistic approach to scripture. Every Sunday we get to hear about the empowering and transforming love of God. In so many ways we are afflicted and the Gospel of Jesus Christ comforts us.
Today, for instance, in the Gospel lesson, Jesus speaks to his own disciples and invites them to take a lighter path. The disciples are guarding Jesus like State Troopers guard football coaches, trying to protect him and keep people away from him, in this case little children who are running up to him. Jesus smiles at the little children and tells the disciples to welcome 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.” Basically Jesus tells the disciples to be more childlike in their approach to life and invites us all to see the kingdom as a place where we will all be more trusting and more open and more joyful, a place where we will know God’s love for us so well that meanness and evil simply cannot exist. As we process out each Sunday to the last hymn, I get to stand at the back of the church and watch the little children pop in and out of the pews on the center aisle. They peek at each other and are busting a gut to dash down the aisle. When I see that I remember the comfort of the gospel and the great freedom it offers.
At other times, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is hugely challenging. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” Today we hear: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her….” Jesus consistently challenges his listeners in pretty clear and straightforward language. “It ain’t the parts of the bible that I can’t understand that bother me,” Mark Twain said, “it’s the parts that I do understand (that bother me.)” When we are trapped by sinfulness and despair, the Gospel of Jesus Christ comforts us. But when we are feeling entitled and trying to weasel out of our responsibilities, the Gospel of Jesus Christ afflicts us.
In a bible study earlier this week, after we read this lesson aloud, someone said, “Ouch, how are you going to get around that one, Robert.” Maybe part of our problem with challenging portions of scripture is that we do try to get around them instead of living into them more fully. The audience Jesus was addressing was accustomed to men being able to divorce women for little or no reason. Jesus tells them that divorce is allowed but that living into faithful lifelong commitments allows us to experience something so much deeper than breaking commitments when they become inconvenient.
I think one thing Jesus is saying is that we are called to do the harder work of loving in relationships. Sometimes couples get divorced without doing that harder work of loving. To heal longstanding wounds takes a lot of struggle and sometimes we just take the easier path and quit or we wait so long to address things that too much harm has been done. Many times, as well, couples choose to stay married but not do the hard work of loving. They just lower the bar and give up on what could be. Every couple could dig a little deeper. But that involves risk and hard work, two things we are so reluctant to take on. Yes, I do think some marriages need to end. Yes, I do think most people quit on marriage too soon. Maybe Jesus is challenging us when we just want permission to do the easy thing. Do the harder work of loving and don’t just look for the easy way out. Jesus isn’t telling us that we have to stay in relationships that are dead or unhealthy for us; Jesus is telling us to dig deeper in love.
Each day we are the beneficiaries of God’s faithful, committed, everlasting love. God has committed himself to loving us no matter what. We are encouraged to engage in that same kind of faithfulness with God and with each other. The only way we can pull that off is by choosing to love day by day. The only way we can pull that off is because God chooses to love us day by day. As we live into life faithfully, our hearts are softened and stretched. As we live into life faithfully, we come to know the heart of God more fully. Be comforted by God’s deep love for you. And do the work God has given you to do.