What's the takeaway? The meaning of this phrase as "what's the main point?" is relatively recent but it's probably the chief one in our day. Takeaway originated in 1921 Britain for what we call take out'. And after that it was used in golf for the backswing and in football, hockey and basketball for a steal. In our Information Age, a takeaway refers to information not physical things. There are 3 takeaways from this text.
The first is temptation. You don't see that because modern English translations all have the Pharisees testing not tempting Jesus. Admittedly the word can mean that depending on context. I say when it involves enemies of Jesus who Scripture says were hypocrites, sought to justify themselves, and to trap Jesus, tempt' is a more accurate translation than test.' However, either way, when it comes to God it is wrong to test Him let alone tempt Him.
So, their question about divorce and Jesus' answer are in the context of tempting/testing. And Jesus answers these guys by talking not about divorce but about marriage. Marriage is not a good idea; it is God's idea. Marriage comes not from men but from God. It develops not from creatures but from the Creature and how He made us. "At the beginning God made them male and female." From the one lump of humanity, God made two. "For this reason," says God in Genesis 2 and God made Flesh here, "for this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife." Because men and women started out as one, they are naturally drawn to each other. In fact, in Matthew's 19 record of this interchange, Jesus says it takes a special gift of God not to be so attracted.
Marriage also takes a special gift of God. In marriage men don't act, God does. Marriage is "what God has joined together." An act of God joins body and soul, His Body to Bread and His Blood to Wine, the new birth to Water, and forgiveness to a words of a man. When you're talking marriage you're talking miracle. And just like you can't make up your own miracles say join the Body and Blood of Jesus to crackers and water or the new birth to gold dust - so you can't join two males or two females. You can have all the ceremony you want, all the laws of all the countries of the world, all people believing that men can marry men and women can marry women and that doesn't make it so.
Men by vote, by decree, by law can't join what God does not, but they can separate what He has joined. Jesus leaves His enemies with the command not to separate what God has joined together. Remember they started out with the intention of tempting Jesus by asking Him if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife. Jesus answers by saying, "Stop separating what God has joined." This bothers the disciples, and privately they ask Jesus about it. And Jesus mows them down too. "Anyone who divorces and marries another commits adultery." In Matthew 19's record of this, we see how shocked His disciples are at this bare-knuckled preaching of the law: "The disciples said to Him, If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.'"
Leaving it where the text does, aren't you too tempted to believe you're toast? And what about all the divorced people? What about all the divorced people that have remarried? Are they in a constant state of adultery? In my ministry, I have run into two cases, one a Roman Catholic and the other Church of Christ, who opted to live together so they wouldn't be in a constant state of adultery. I told them, "O so you'll just be in a constant state of fornication instead."
The first takeaway is temptation; the second is indignation, and it leaves us no better off. This is the only place where Jesus is said to be indignant. This word primarily means "'to feel a violent irritation physically,' it was usedof the fermenting of wine, hence metaphorically, to show signs of grief'" of being displeased'" (Vine, 174-5). Jesus is visibly displeased over the disciples rebuking those bringing their children to Him for blessing. We could rail here on denominations who don't baptize babies, though most of them have ceremonies where parents dedicate their children to Christ. But if we do that we'll think we have escaped the indignation of Jesus. And He is indignant over all who misunderstand or misuse the means of grace.
The part about marriage dealt with the temptation to justify yourself before God. Thinking you're right with God based on being married, not being divorced, never having married. This part deals with who the means of grace are for and what they are. Jesus is indignant because the kingdom belongs to children. The kingdom of God where sinners are justified, forgiven, redeemed, restored, renewed is for the most helpless. What can an infant do to deserve the kingdom? Make no mistake; that's what some of these children are. Luke 18 says, "Now they were bringing even infants to Him that He might touch them" (ESV).
Jesus is indignant at those who don't get: that His kingdom is for the helpless, that it can be delivered by just a touch from Him, and that only those who receive the kingdom as a child go to heaven. This means Jesus is indignant, openly displeased with me. Some say more pictures of Jesus with a smiling face should be painted because surely Jesus smiled. Nowhere are we told He did, but here we are told He is violently irritated and it's visible on His face. It's not a case of if looks can kill. Jesus' look can not only kill but damn forever and then some.
Again we're cats on the counter top strewn with mousetraps step here and I'm tempted to believe I can justify myself; step there and I'm face to face with the indignation of Jesus. So, takeaway not only temptation and indignation, but take away oration, in the archaic sense of prayer. Take away our Collect which the Church has been praying for at least 1,300 years. It was modified by the Anglican's in 1662 (Reed, 530) in the direction of the Law not the Gospel. That's where The Lutheran Hymnal gets "we running the way of Thy Commandments, may obtain Thy promises" (77), and I think that is where the 2006 Lutheran Service Book gets "that we may be called to repentance" (Altar Book, 719). Our insert, from the 1982 Lutheran Worship, is closest to the ancient Latin original.
God's "almighty power" is chiefly made known not in the Law that condemns us all married, unmarried, divorced and not in the indignant look that kills all but "in showing mercy and pity." Well, that's as much of a surprise as Elijah not finding God Almighty in the great and powerful wind that shattered rocks, in the earthquake that shook his teeth loose, in the fire that roared, but finding Almighty God in the still, small voice. God's omnipotence is chiefly made known in the Person and Work of Jesus who doesn't quench smoldering wicks, does snatch brands from the fire, and won't lift up His voice in the street. Instead He calls the weary and heavy-laden sinners to Himself for rest, and promises that whosoever comes to Him He will in no way cast out.
Once the Law has shown you that you have no place to stand before God Almighty that He can't be tempted to modify the Law, lower the bar, give you some breathing room; once the Law has shown you that even the meek and mild God in flesh and blood is indignant with anyone who thinks they can be saved by bringing something other than sins to Him. Flee to His keeping of the Law in your place; run to His dying as payment for your breaking of the Law. Don't be as Pharisees trying to deal with the Law on your terms. No, be as little children who find their safety, their salvation in the arms of Jesus stretched out to sinners today. But where on earth is His mercy and pity today, now? Where does He take sinners up into the arms that bled for them? Where does He bless sinners today? In Baptismal waters that scour sinners clean of all sins. In the Words of Absolution from the mouth of a man that send sins away from sinners as far as east is from west. In the Bread that is the Body of Jesus and in the Wine that is His Blood which after communing course through your body, blood, and soul renewing them for eternal life.
For at least 1,300 years sinners just like you have been praying to the God "whose almighty power is made known chiefly in showing mercy and pity." Ask your Catholic, Baptist, Anglican, Pentecostal friend "Where is God's almighty power chiefly made known today?" Ask yourself. How quickly we all revert back to the Law, the God who breaks mountains and quakes earth. Our default setting is to think of God in terms of Law not in terms of the Gospel of mercy and pity. And are default reading of every text is to hear what I need to do. There is a place for that, after the Gospel, but the first thing to take away from this text is what you can't do. And then you'll pray with gusto the rest of that Collect that sinners like us have been praying for over a millennia. "Grant us the fulness of Your grace that we may be partakers of your heavenly treasures."
The Lutheran Hymnal's Anglicized version prays for "such a measure of Thy grace". Our Lutheran Worship insert "fullness of grace" is better but the 7th century Latin is "multiply over us Your grace." That takes us to John 1 where we're told "the Law was given through Moses;" but "grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." Therefore, it also says, "From Jesus' fulness we have all received grace upon grace." God's grace which is ours because of who Jesus is (the God-Man) and what He has done (redeemed sinners) has been multiplied over us. You can't look any direction in this sanctuary without seeing a reminder of His grace. Behind you is the font, before you is the altar and pulpit, all around you the stain glass. This fullness of grace makes you a partaker of God's heavenly treasures.
And so we come back to marriage. The marriage that really counts. "Partakers" is translating the Latin consortes. A consort' originally referred in particular to the spouse of a reigning monarch. That's the takeaway from this text. You're married to King Jesus. Long live the King and His consortes. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (20181007); Mark 10: 2-16