Mark 10:13

Some of the people were bringing little children to Jesus, for him to touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who had brought them.

healthy families
still have children
who need blessing

orphaned children
officially family-less
look for their blessing

disciples to this day
exhibit their privilege
blocking another’s blessing

all that is needed
is to stay out of Jesus’ way
until it is our Way

Faced with a tsunami of caregivers bringing child after child, any aid agency, much less a small group, will eventually come to a point of compassion fatigue. Having done all they can do and faced again with healings, blessings, they are not up to, the disciples move to triage.

With the potential of generous donors, one cut line is that of the poor. Children don’t have pocketbooks and their caregivers have probably exhausted other options before coming with no resources to a promised-to-be free clinic.

In 9:33–37 the disciples were caught arguing about which of this set of great disciples was the greatest. In response a child was brought forward to teach a lesson. As a continuation of that previous episode, the shown-up disciples have another opportunity to get some of their own back. When we contend over our greatness, it is usually those designated as the least that bear the brunt of our desire.

As a reader might well expect after a teaching regarding divorce and an ostensible setting of a hardline, the disciples strengthen their own rules about gatekeeping. At a minimum a quota of caregivers and children needs to be set. Blessings are rare and beautiful and must be protected.

Readers can not only catch the disciples out one more time, but begin to ask how it is that readers have caught on to Jesus’ teaching about powerlessness and begun to see themselves moving in that direction? When Mark’s narrative begins to take effect within his readers, if not the characters, life becomes more intense and interesting.

Readers can begin to feel an anger rise within against the disciples who are, again, missing the point. They only seem to want to catch big, lazy fish. These little ones don’t measure up and are being thrown back. This will not do!

Mark 10:12

and, if the woman divorces her husband and marries another man, she is guilty of adultery.”

a false equivalency
does not make an argument
any more wise
only more foolish

what’s worse for the gander
is not made better
by being made equally worse
for a gray goose

to be broken
does not presume blame
for missing a mark is not sin
nor is it eternal

Wright132 stops a bit short in his comment:

…this means that, for Jesus’ comment to make sense, he must be offering a cure for hardheartedness. If he is not articulating a rigorous return to the standard of Genesis, to God’s original intention, he is either being hopelessly idealistic or he believes that the coming of the kingdom will bring about a way for hearts to be softened.

After recognizing that the longevity of debates about divorce indicates there has been no easy cure for divorce, even if rigorously opposed, he mistakenly goes on to note millions of Christians have prayed and received a grace to remain faithful to their marriage vows, even being able to “celebrate” that an implicit promise of “one flesh” is realizable in their circumstance.

An idealism conflated into some potential state-of-being does not have an adequate grounding for the frailty of time-bound relationships. No amount of waiting will resolve the pain done by and to those ties to mutual creation or a helper status that can be seen as both larger and smaller than that of another being helped.

To turn a “solution” to brokenness into a next rule denying the reality of differences, is all too easy. Imagine Jesus now giving the disciples an essay question: “I have just tightened the rules on divorce. Reflect on the efficacy of rules to change people’s ways of interacting with one another. Be sure to include comments on our previous discussions of healings, prayer, seeds, and, bread.”

When we presume that these two verses say all that needs to be said about a deeply human experience of suffering in and death of a relationship, we have narrowed the scope of what “repentance” and “good news” might mean as a way of healing or repairing a gap in the mystery of attraction, deepening, and formation of a loving nature.

An on-going question of interpretation is how seriously to take what is reported at face-value. What if a literal reading is a test?

Mark 10:11

and he said, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman is guilty of adultery against his wife;

let’s play up-the-ante
take a reality
heighten judgment

from misalignment
abuse on shame

whoever means you
make mandatory
thicker walls

Verses 11 and 12 look to re-establish an equality between males and females that offends both Jewish and Roman ways of dealing with the reality of broken partnerships.

The Roman way that eventually became serial marriage raises the moral question of dissolution. Here adultery becomes the sticking spot. There is no softening of the harm being done, no matter the social acceptance of divorce. A stone epitaph from Quintus Lucretius Bespillo to his wife, Turia, who died between 8 and 2 BCE, as recorded by Ludwig Friedlander in Roman Life and Manners Under the Early Empire, speaks to this acceptance:

Seldom do marriages last until death undivorced;
but ours continued happily for forty-one years.

Roman ordinances in both 18 BCE and 9 CE make it clear that “… men aged 25–60 and women 20–50 who were unmarried, widowed, or divorced were obligated to marry unless they already had at least three children.” ~LaVerdiere-278

Verse 11 is in basic accord with Jewish tradition, but verse 12 upsets things by moving beyond a strictly patriarchal structure. To give women the right of divorce would be highly problematic for those restricting the right of divorce to men.

In both cases what seems to be at stake here is the issue of “hard-heartedness” from 10:5. Whether the command comes from the state or the temple, there is an underlying and basically irreconcilable reality that some desire is blocking a continued growth toward oneness or a deepening partnership.

Any potential fickleness of passion or external circumstance such as lack of a male heir needs to be looked at in light of the pain of the loss of hope inherent in the start of relationship, whether brokered for one or engaged in independently. Such a loss is the set-up for a next brokenness when not explored and learned from.

Mark 10:10

When they were indoors, the disciples asked him again about this,

having declaimed
was to have settled
and yet
under this roof
it need be said again

where honor is
used protectively
nothing else
has room to breathe
so here is again

again again
however many times
all can say it together
a fence built against doubt

Again, palin, we are going through the pattern of public notice and private explanation. Again, we are stuck with trying to nail everything down, to be sure we understand before we can act.

What we learned in the public setting was that the priestly class has settled to be lawyers, parsers of rules. They have lost track of the mystery and wisdom of partnership that leaves a trail through time. To the question of the Pharisees Jesus gave a prophetic response that went back to creation.

Now, in private, the disciples are playing this same game of “give us an answer we can apply easily and universally”. This question brings a shift from the Jewish culture to the Roman. This is not something for which there is only a prophetic response because there is an additional context. We need to be ready to hear a response oriented to being a “fisher” in an occupied setting.

After looking at both historic, anthropologic, and satirical sources, LaVerdiere-279 notes, “…to be effective Jesus’ response to the Pharisees was not enough. It had to be supplemented with further teaching that took the Roman Empire into consideration.”

There is not room here to review the documentation that points to the development of multiple marriages and multiple divorces within the higher reaches of Roman society [Note: There is much less information about those outside the ruling class.] It may be summed up with an insight from the satirist Martial in reference to a Telesilla who was marrying her tenth husband—“This was no longer marriage, but legal adultery; an honest prostitute was less offensive.”

Without this shift in reference from Jewish to Roman life, readers will easily mistake Jesus’ comments about divorce and make him into a new Mosaic lawgiver rather than one who stimulates thought about moral and ethical living which moves toward changed behavior.

Mark 10:9

What God himself, then, has yoked together no one must separate.” 

be good
no question

what is
is what is

nothing more
nothing less

without standing
stand down

sit cornered
slip away

grow elsewhere
and elseway

for now
no pulling

no pushing
no birth

Any “therefore” is dependent upon its preceding data points.

Obviously “one flesh” means more than one flesh. Though there are few parables told in this second half of Mark, this can be seen as a parabolic response to a typical challenge. To rebuild a legal or social edifice on a thought-opening rejoinder brings with it a great weakness. In this case it is most clearly a retrenchment of patriarchy that grew from the identifiers originally chosen (male language and interpretation from a male perspective). Don’t hesitate to choose differently.

One of the choices here is which phrase to put first. Are humans to refrain from sundering that which has been yoked? Is a yoking by G*D not to be sundered by humans?

Yet there is a tension in the G*D/Human partnership that sometimes needs noting as a Human/G*D partnership. As in this larger yoked pair each urges the other on to more beauty and each restrains the other from knee-jerk ugliness, so there is an evolving quality to their relationship. In this, ancient stories call out to be retold from a different vantage point.

For one who later will be “forsaken”, abandoned, divorced, this is a great cry for premeditated mercy as a basic grounding in any economic, political, military setting. It is a remembrance of an exiled Garasene. This is a recollection of healings, of lifting up and restoring to community. This is a seed seeking healthy soil and soil yearning for a new seed.

This is a call to fisherfolk to look around them again. Can they see the way the world has been separated into this group with power and that powerless mass? If they can glimpse the need for good news, will they begin to use that analysis to craft a way to re-yoke the world into a better image through hospitality and partnership?

Mark 10:8

and the man and his wife will become one;’ so that they are no longer two, but one.

man & wife
are as different as
giraffe and ostrich
both have long necks
but . . .

two being one
has no grounding
in the artificiality
of formal marriage
but . . .

man and woman
husband and wife
hold different status
marriage is good
but . . .

papering over différence
even doing so twice
is a frail bridge
even in fair weather
but . . .

And it was so what G*D spake after the earth had brought forth herd-animals, crawling things, and more: “In our image, humankind” (Genesis 1:26).

And it is so, the “our” is a very old problem. It gets to fallibility and weakness of the likeness to G*D. It wonders about a single authority or multiplicity of “personality”. “They were created, whole, as well as female and male” (Genesis 1:27)

Here we have both specificity and multi-dimensionality. Any intention of that which is whole, now split into two, eventually and universally re-bonding as a whole, places untold vectors into a relationship. It is amazing that the standard expectation is not divorce, a bias toward one pole or the other.

It becomes even more problematic if a second story is looked at. Genesis 2:7 relates a single, soil-being (brought forth from the earth). Not only was their form dictated, but their need for a “helper” (2:18). A next creation was needed, one then called Isha, from an Ish (2:21–24). [Note: rather than “ribs” it could be “sides” reflecting other ancient understandings of a basic androgyny (both male/female with untold variations that become a unit known as human).]

Strange business this specific differentiation intended to go beyond differentiation.

It is sometimes helpful to change media when dealing with attempts to freeze a moving target. A helpful shift would be to revisit the first few chapters of Genesis in a graphic book by R. Crumb, The Book of Genesis: Illustrated. Crumb’s introduction reminds us that the compilers of the creation stories were codified by a “priestly caste”. This is part of the irony of using priestly stories on the priests.

Mark 10:7

‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother,

always intriguing
basing today
on because
of yesterday

there are many ways
beyond this theory’s given

more intriguing
basing today
on soon
a tomorrow

there are many ways
beyond this theory’s given

most intriguing
basing today
on ifs
of today

there are many ways
beyond this theory’s given

There is nothing inherent in the development of a binary male-female construct that requires one way of working out a relationship between the two. Questions galore can be asked about this “because”. There seems to be a tradition taking precedence here, not a cause.

There have been alternatives to a joining of male and female down through time. An obvious joining is the bringing forth of a new generation of males and females. Beyond that, which is not an imperative in an over-populated world, there are as many different ways of combining sexes and genders as there are people involved. It can’t even be said that in any given relationship that the parties are engaged with one another in an agreed upon reason for their being together.

If readers here are interested in exploring some of the variations of human integrity and cultural expressions, it would be good to pick up nearly any book by Ursula K. Le Guin. A couple of starting places would be her Left Hand of Darkness, The Birthday of the World, and Changing Planes.

Since the Kinsey Reports in the 1940s and 50s we have been finding more and more variations of human interaction within and between males and females. The combinations and permutations are legendary by now and it takes a certain amount of myopism to hold to one etiology and commandment about human interactions.

Even a push beyond later commands and traditions to a basic observation about male and female can’t get us to a single place. The basic indeterminacy of intersexuality points to diversity. When bodies are unclear about basic physiology everything else becomes more so.

Mark 10:6

but, at the beginning of the Creation, ‘God made them male and female.’

our starting point
is always direct and specific
I am this and this
you are that and that
with hope of completion
this dancing with that
and fear of any new home
honing and molding us
reducing invading

once started we choose
where variances need apply
virtues shed their shadow
or hold it tight
vices find their warm heart
or grip their cold
ideally both find more
than batch-ing it
under the same roof

We are now a step deeper into the commandment as we move from Moses to Genesis. In this ancient view, the positive benefit of a parent/child relationship becomes a communal liability (an inbreeding) that can only be rectified with new blood and so a child bonds with another child beyond the confines of a beginning family structure and cleaves to them in a way that requires a shift in relationship dynamics.

This is more than simply a maturational issue; it is a deeply genetic attempt at the improvement of the gene pool that goes much beyond this or that personal life. There is a multiplicative binary that seems deeper than any subsequent dualism that is used to hold everything to one standard. This is particularly visible when considering a gift of singleness.

When we can look beyond a commandment’s surface, we can begin to see a wider issue. With divorce as it had come down to Jesus there is a tendency to see it in the limited view of a single male-female relationship. The dynamics of life are never quite as simple and clean as whatever triggers a loss of honor in the eyes of one or another party. There are waves of additional energies that ebb and flow around and behind a single instance. Myers118 points to an on-going issue of social patriarchy that stands behind divorce.

[Jesus] addresses the system of male power and privilege in which a woman who had been “dismissed” by her husband became a social outcast with little means of supporting herself. The original vision of Genesis, Jesus argues, stipulated equality between men and women. The marriage covenant, far from delivering the woman into the power of the man, instructed the man to break with his patriarchal “house” in order to “become one flesh” with his wife (10:6–8). Jesus’ conclusion in 10:9 refers to the way in which patriarchy, not divorce, drives a wedge that tears this equality asunder.

Mark 10:5

“It was owing to the hardness of your hearts,” said Jesus, “that Moses gave you this direction;

an unyielding heart
blocks good news
before it is thought
or whispered

for this consistency
we will not break
our beasts
nor heed an angel

here “sorry” limps
sorrowfully away
wandering ever deeper
through withering wilderness

a resolution always away
on a moveable horizon
short-circuited before it’s time
by the quickest fix to hand

Induration, hardness of heart or obstinate stubbornness is the import of σκληροκαρδία, (sklērokardia).

We’ve all had a touch of this when we, for one reason or another, get stuck in a one-way answer to life’s perplexing questions. Our very attempt at cutting through the clutter, instead sets up a wall around our thinking and feeling. Whether we are protecting a secret or defending a principle, it is easy to get caught in a web of justifications.

In humans, sclerosis is a hindrance. In plants, the equivalent of lignification is a benefit. It strengthens cell walls and assists with the transport of water throughout the plant. It assists in helping plants store carbon, which in today’s changing climate is an extra benefit.

This beneficial use of hardening is a simple reminder that we are never dealing with a simple situation. Behind a blessing of relationship there are untold mysteries. Within a blessing of ending a relationship are also untold mysteries. The issue of commandments and the development of allowances to be made because they are too cookie-cutterish when it comes to the dynamics of life—commandments are made for our lives, not our lives for the sake of a commandment, no matter how primal we think it might be.

Commandments, like aspects of any legal system derive from ungrounded idealism in real lives or a reaction to an event with an attempt to constrain its reoccurrence. Either way there is a recognition that some form of control is required to hold a larger system in place.

So, using the allowance noted by the Pharisees as a commandment, Jesus identifies an indifference to others as a key for the way we excuse turning our back on one another and whole groups.

Mark 10:4

“Moses,” they said, “permitted a man to draw up in writing a notice of separation and divorce his wife.” 

now that we know
the standardized rule
we can wrestle honestly
with whether it fits
this unique partnership

to wed a Neighb*r
is to wed G*D and gods
in all their manifold
combinations and permutations

to divorce a G*D or gods
is to divorce Neighb*rs
those we hang with or won’t
affects every molecule

this is no matter
for framed certificates
proving only time
when space is the matter

Whatever distinction can be drawn between a command and what is allowed is still up-for-grabs. For practical purposes there is not much difference. However, to ask for a positive action and receive back a passive one does raise a red flag of missed communication—one more time.

There is a still further subtlety to the business of allowing divorce. Whatever allowance Moses was talking about in Deuteronomy 24, it appears Moses was simply taking what was presumed to be a behavior of the day (husbands leaving wives) and regulating it, giving a process that clarifies and regulates a leaving to be more protective of the one being left. This assists a fledgling community to better flourish.

This shift from command to allow also gives another opportunity to ask questions about where we are grounded. In this case and current American civil-religion it is helpful to keep pushing things back and back, removing layer upon layer, to a more solid footing than simply a current common agreement or latest meme. In the current scene there is a great emphasis upon individual freedom that takes no account of any communal context or the effect one freedom has on another.

It is this question of effect that is always in play when dealing with any presentation of good news. From its military background we can understand a long-ago dancing on the watery grave of Egyptian charioteers. Seeing from a partnership perspective reduces the clear-cut nature of what is beneficial, for whom, and for how long.

Reponses to clear questions do reveal whether we are in an investigative or adversarial relationship and help us stay centered.