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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
October 7, 2018 at 10:45 PM
Central Passage
Mark 10:2-16
Pentecost 20B

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: October 7, 2018 – Pentecost 20B

Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16


Reversing ‘Heart’ Disease


            “Does the Law allow a man to divorce his wife?” Before this week, this seemed like a typical trick question that the religious authorities would ask Jesus. The Pharisees already know what Scripture says – they want to trip him up in an answer. They already know that they are permitted to divorce their wives. Some famous Pharisees, such as Hillel, thought Moses’ command could apply to any potential reason for divorce, including (and I am not making this up) if she was a bad cook.


            But today, I hear it differently. They don’t sound like cunning, crafty opponents. They sound like whiny, petulant men, who rightly see Jesus as a threat to the fragile privilege they have so carefully crafted. 


            Jesus tells the Pharisees that they have “cardiosclerosis”. Jesus tells the Pharisees that Moses’ teaching on divorce was less of a command and more of a concession. Human hearts grow hard. Love grows cold. Because of the fickleness and hardness of the human heart, divorce was permitted.


            But it wasn’t supposed to be that way.


            From the beginning, Jesus tells us, human beings were made to be in relationship with each other. We hear in Genesis that the first human needed a “helper” – not a lord to tell him what to do, nor a slave to do as he wished, but a helper to share his life with. Some rabbis even found meaning in the fact that the Lord takes a rib from the man to make the woman. The Lord doesn’t take from his head or his feet, but from his side. The woman is to be the man’s partner – not his lord nor his slave. Marriage, for Jesus, is a relationship that is rooted at the beginning of creation.


            But as we know, there is a big difference between God’s intention for human relationships and how those relationships actually play out.


            Yet again, there are power dynamics at work. The past two Sundays, we have heard readings from Mark in which Jesus’ disciples are trying to cement and protect their power and privilege. They argue among themselves over who is the greatest. They try to get Jesus to stop a rogue exorcist because he’s not one of them. Jesus again and again explains to them that the most vulnerable are the greatest in God’s kingdom and worthy of special respect. He warns them not to scandalize such vulnerable ones, like children, who believe in him. And yet, that’s exactly what men with power and privilege in Mark keep doing. They have this satanic need to have power over others. The Pharisees want to keep the privilege of divorcing their wives for any reason they like. The disciples, later in the reading, want to restrict access to Jesus. They scold people who bring their children to Jesus. Their power – and desire to hold onto it – causes their hearts to harden. They have cardiosclerosis.


            And we have it too, when we elevate one group of people over another group. When we desire to protect our power and privilege at all costs. When our hearts are hardened to relationships with each other marked by mutual openness and equality. Our cardiosclerosis kills our humanity.


            Which is precisely why we need Jesus. Jesus is the one who not only points out our hard-heartedness, but endures the consequences of it for our salvation. Jesus suffers the consequences of our inhumanity so that he can bring us into true humanity. He comes to us as one who is vulnerable himself to the inhumane power dynamics that grind human relationships into dust. He will endure betrayal by a close friend, abandonment by the rest of them, accusations of possession and insanity by the religious leaders and his own family, and finally, condemnation by the religious and political powers of his time. Jesus himself suffers all these things so that he can show us what true power and true love look like, bringing us into our identity as children of God. By his life, suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus reverses our “heart disease”.


            True power and love aren’t what we think they are. In the Old Testament, there’s a special word used to describe fidelity. Sometimes it’s translated “mercy”, sometimes “steadfast love”, sometimes “faithfulness”. The word is hesed, and it is what God shows human beings all the time. It was what hosts were supposed to show travelers. It is what Jesus commands us to show to each other, especially the most vulnerable. It is the value in which all human relationships are grounded because it is how God relates with us.


            Jesus refused to play the power games that we humans play all the time, and points us, time and time again, back to God’s steadfast love – the love which forgives our sins and heals our hearts. That’s the love that makes Jesus “unashamed to call us brothers and sisters”. That’s the love that makes us Christian community. Those are the ties that bind our hearts.


            Our sinfulness will tear and break these bonds from time to time. But in Jesus, God’s love which heals our hearts and makes us whole is never broken. That’s what, in the last line of our hymn today, “gives us faith to be more faithful, gives us hope to be more true, gives us love to go on learning: God encourage and renew.”




© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.