October 4 2015 Reflection

19th Sunday after Pentecost
‘PROTECTING THE WEAK AND VULNERABLE

BIBLE READING
Mark 10:2-16

REFLECTION

Without trying to rub salt into the wounds of the Dockers fans here, I believe everyone is appalled by the action of the man who hit a woman in the last Dockers’ game this year. The 24-year-old man hit the 38-year-old woman with his right hand in the neck after she asked him to stop using abusive language in the presence of her children. Apparently, the woman was an off-duty policewoman and the man was under the influence of alcohol, but that didn’t justify his action whatsoever.

His action was shocking because it happened in a place where everyone, especially women and children, should feel safe. It was also shocking because it happened only a few days after the Federal Government pledge $100 million package to fight violence against women and children.

Friends, the issue of protecting women and children is as relevant today as it was in Jesus’ time. In the reading that we have today, Jesus' main concern seemed to be about divorce in his time; and he seemed to be quite straightforward in his opposition against getting a divorce. But the issue was not that simple in his time as it is not today. There were different understandings about divorce between the Romans and the Jews and even between the Jews themselves. And the Bible doesn’t give one unified view about divorce; it simply represents those differing opinions on its pages.

At the heart of Jesus’ argument was his concern about the welfare of women in his society. In the Roman society, both men and women could divorce their spouses. But, in the Jewish society at the time, only a man could divorce his wife.[1] According to the Pharisees, Moses gave the permission for a Jewish man to divorce his wife by giving her a divorce paper and send her away. In Deuteronomy 24:1 (NRSV), a husband could divorce his wife if she didn’t ‘please’ him because he found something ‘objectionable’ about her. This practice was in line with the view that Jewish wives were simply properties of their husbands. As properties, Jewish men could simply discard their wives by a legal paper as one would discard an ownership of something else.

But to be separated from her husband was a significant blow to a woman to survive in those times. In a patriarchal society like Jesus’, women and children were very dependent on the adult males in their family. Without her husband’s financial support, a woman would find it hard to survive. That’s why, in the Bible, we often hear the invitation to look after the widows and the orphans because these were the most vulnerable people in ancient time.

So Jesus was not against divorce per se. What he was against was the practice of treating women like properties that could be ‘purchased’ and ‘discarded’ at men’s whim.

Jesus’ concern about the weak and vulnerable was reflected again in the second part of our reading today. This is a popular story that we often hear during baptism, like the one we had last week. The reading is often understood as an invitation to adopt the attitude and character of a little child to be able to enter into God’s Kingdom. We are to welcome God’s Kingdom with the kind of curiosity, humility, and high degree of trust that children exhibit.

Another way of reading this story to focus on Jesus words in v.14, “the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these”. Last week we talked about how the little children represented the weak and the vulnerable in Jesus’ society. So Jesus invitation to welcome little children in Mark 9 (v. 33-37) was an invitation to welcome the weak and the vulnerable.

I believe Jesus said his words in our reading today in similar perspective. God’s Kingdom belongs to such as these means that it belongs to those people who are low in status like the little children in Jesus’ time. In other words, God’s Kingdom belongs to the weak and the vulnerable. In a world, both past and present, where rulers come from the powerful and the rich, Jesus’ words were running against the norm. In his time, one would be very keen to welcome someone with high status because it would bring honour to him/her. No one, in his time, held a banquet for little children because of their low status in the society (birthday party for children is a modern invention). But for Jesus, the greatest of all, the one who deserved God’s Kingdom, were those who identified themselves with the least of all.[2]

So those who can enter God’s Kingdom are those who can welcome it not only like a child would welcome it, but like they would welcome a little child.[3] In other words, those who can enter God’s Kingdom are those who can welcome the weak and the vulnerable. This is in line with Jesus’ parable in Matthew[4]: “I tell you, whenever you refused to help one of these least important ones, you refused to help me.” The Kingdom of God is indeed a place where the weak and the vulnerable will find a place of safety and refuge.

Friends, the church is not the Kingdom of God, but it is the starting point. No, the church is not a perfect place. We only need to think about the many cases of sexual abuse against women and children in the church. Yet, it doesn’t mean that we are to give up and do not strive to achieve the standard that Jesus had put in place.

In his recent trip to the US, Pope Francis visited and prayed with a small group of people who suffered as sexual abuse victims when they were children. The group consisted of three women and two men who were now adults; each of them was accompanied by a family member. A number of them were abused by priests and the Pope promised them that clergy who abuse or fail to protect children would be held accountable. He told them that he was deeply sorry for what had happened to them and that God ‘wept’ for their suffering.[5]

Friends, caring, nurturing, and protecting women and children are not only secular agendas driven by a secular world. This call is at the heart of the teaching about God’s Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed. To enter God’s Kingdom, one must be willing and able to welcome the ‘little ones’; the weak and the vulnerable of our society. Often, these ‘little ones’ are the women and children (of course sometimes men also) in our community of faith here and in our society. We are to welcome these people and care for them. And when we do that, we welcome both God’s Kingdom and Jesus in our midst.

Amen.

Rev. Toby Keva

[1] Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman, Commentary on Mark 10:2-16, October 04 2015 (http://www.working preacher.org/preaching.aspx? commentary_id=2638)

[2] Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman, Commentary on Mark 10:2-16, October04 2015 (http://www.working preacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2638)

[3] Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman, Commentary on Mark 10:2-16, October04 2015 (http://www.working preacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2638)

[4] 25:40 Good News Translation (GNT)

[5] Pope Francis: 'God Weeps' at Child Sex Abuse, September 27 2015 (http://www.bbc.com/ news/world-us-canada-34375068)