RCL Year B Proper 22
Genesis 2:18-24, Psalm 8, Hebrews 1:1-4 and 2:5-12, Saint Mark 10:2-16

The question the Pharisees pose to Jesus in today’s Gospel is a trick question. When they ask him whether it is lawful for a man to divorce is wife, the trick is that Moses permitted just that. Divorce, then as now, is lawful, but it is not ideal, then as now. That is the answer Jesus gives.

So, Moses and Jesus together show us two possibilities, and it falls to us to exercise our freedom and our agency as best we can.

The two possibilities are these. First, there is the ideal. We may call the ideal God’s perfect will. Jesus affirms the ideal when he quotes Genesis twice.[1] In quoting Genesis, Jesus affirms that God’s perfect will from the beginning is that marriage be permanent. He underscores God’s perfect will when he declares: “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”[2]

There is a second possibility, however, and it is this possibility that makes the Pharisees’ question a trick. The second possibility is what Moses made legal. Moses made it legal for a man to divorce his wife. God permitted Moses to make divorce legal. So, we may call this second possibility God’s permissive will. Through Moses God permits divorce, but in no way is God’s permissive will the same thing as God’s perfect will. God and Moses permitted divorce, because of the hardness of the human heart. And Jesus reminds us of this in the Gospel.[3]

Which will it be—God’s perfect will or God’s permissive will? Some can only measure up to the lower standard. But there are some who can measure up to the higher standard.

And what example does Jesus give us of the higher standard? It is the little children: “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”[4] The little children exemplify what some adults lack. They are totally dependent upon God, and, before we teach them adult ways, they are totally obedient to the Gospel. Theirs is the kingdom of God.

If we are not able to measure up to God’s perfect will, what way forward lies before our feet? The way forward is revealed in the next event in Saint Mark’s Gospel. The Rich Man asks Jesus what he must do, what God’s perfect will is, and when he cannot do it, we learn from Jesus the way forward: “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”[5]

[1] Genesis 1:27 and 2:24.

[2] Saint Mark 10:9.

[3] Saint Mark 10:5.

[4] Saint Mark 10:14.

[5] Saint Mark 10:27.