(The following devotion was preached in the chapel of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary on Monday, October 8, 2018)
Did anyone need to look very closely to find the malady of last Sunday’s gospel (Mark 10:2-16)? There before us is a heaping helping of home-cooked malady served up by arrogant pharisees who seek to trap Jesus in an argument about when you can get rid of your wife. All of which is topped off with some malady dessert passed out by clueless disciples. Having just finished arguing about who was the greatest, they were sure an all-too-busy Jesus had no time for little ones whose Huggies might leak on the Messiah.
But look closer, what do you see? Pharisees, told to search for a command of Moses that might answer their double jeopardy question point to an obscure passage of the Pentateuch about a certificate of divorce when the real command of the LORD through Moses was the gift of marriage in the Garden.
But look closer still, what do you see? “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law.” Jesus puts his finger on it. Behind all the pharisaic sham-debates about searching for a cause to send away one’s wife – or one’s husband as Jesus adds later – stands an ugly reality. It is the turned-in-on-itself rock-hard sinful heart that cannot recognize God as the giver of any truly good gift. Such hard hearts view spouse or children as useful only so long as the pleasure-cost margin is positive.
But looking that closely ruins the fun of shaking my head at proud pharisees and dense disciples. When Jesus looks at the hardness of the turned-in-on-itself human heart, he somehow always seems to be looking at me.
Suddenly the scene shifts from crossing the Jordan (v 1) to stepping over the threshold of my home. As I cross that border after a long day of ministry how easy to think – quite subconsciously lest my new self recognize the lie – that finally I’m done for at least a few hours with having to be servant of all. Finally, I’ve come to the place where I don’t need to serve anyone with a smile and kind words because I’m tired from – and perhaps a bit proud of – all my fine ministry work. Who can stop me if I just want to zone-out in front of the TV for the Brewers playoff game or lose myself with some mindless surfing on a few choice – or not so choice – web sites with a favorite snack or beverage in hand and shoes kicked off! If that’s what I want to do I should be able to do so without having to worry about what kind of day my wife had or whether the kids/grandkids know that they matter as much to dad/grandpa as the students I teach in school.
While I may never have filed legal papers to send my wife or offspring away, I am quite skilled in knowing how to send my wife away by only seeming to listen to her and sending my children away by being just impatient enough that they will gladly avoid me. There I sit in my own little kingdom blithely unaware that when I stepped into my home I had entered perhaps the most important venue to be servant of all. But frustrating that purpose is the hard, turned-in-on-self heart Jesus observes at work in my home.
What does he see at your home – whether that’s with your family of origin or the family God’s given you now or the for-this-school-year family of those around you in the dorm? Look closer, what do you see?
But look closer yet, what do you see? Wrong question. Look closer, whom do you see? There standing in the middle of contentious Pharisees and clueless disciples stands the Creator of marriage and family clothed in our flesh and blood. There he stands with his heart filled with compassion in the midst of the pain caused by our not-so-focused-on-the-family hardness-of-heart. There stands the One who enters our homes not to be served but to serve, to give himself as a ransom for all our hard heartedness! He came here to be put to shame, not by losing face in pharisaical arguments, but by bearing my shame for all the times I have sent away those he brought so near to me!
Later today, as you enter your current home, look closer, what do you see? If you look closely, you will see the hardness of your natural heart against which you still struggle. But as you enter your home, look even closer: whom do you see? There is Jesus drawing near to us in the challenge of living in marriage and family in a sinful world. As you enter chapel all this week, look closer as his comforting grace empowers real love within our families. Look closer, there is Jesus: enabling us daily to die to our hard hearts and to live in our homes in his forgiving love.