The Bible is full of difficult things, as we've noted before. God sets firm limits on his people, and Jesus calls his followers to a narrow obedience. Sometimes I resent that boundary; other times, I'm grateful. Today, I'm both.
In our reading in Mark, Jesus says two hard statements: one that brings me conviction and one that brings me comfort. I've sat with this reading for a couple of days, trying to figure out what to write as a post, and I've realized that I'm really grateful for the comfort, and I really want to ignore the conviction. I want to pick and choose what I listen to, what I live by, but that's not the way Scripture works. If I am willing to submit to the one - and reap its benefits - then I must accept the other. Perhaps there will be benefits there, too, but regardless, my act of responsive love toward God is to obey.
"Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me..." (Mk. 9:37). Oh, wow. Eric and I have five children, aged 13 to 4. It's a house full of noise and laughter and love, but also full of people who get into and move my stuff, who eat up food I had mentally set aside for later, who leave cupboard doors open and toothpaste smears in the sink. Every single thing I do is undone in a matter of days or even hours. There are days that I consign my job to the garbage bin, and I'm ashamed to say that I often make sure my "employees" know of my dissatisfaction. All too frequently, I am selfish and petty and mean - definitely not welcoming. And then I encounter this verse again and I'm shot through with conviction. Sometimes I feel angry at the way God's word has confronted me, other times I'm simply pricked and pierced by my sin. Each time, though, I'm forced to look at the ways that I am unwelcoming to these little children and what that disobedience and failure communicates. What does it reveal about my love and welcome for Jesus? What does it show my children about how Jesus welcomes them? What hurts does it inflict in their young souls? It's uncomfortable. It's hard. And I'm still held to it. I hear God's word; thus, I obey.
Mark 10 holds statements just as unsettling. His comments about the sanctity and permanence of marriage are counter-cultural and difficult. "It was because your hearts were hard..." (10:5). "What God has joined together, let man not separate" (vs. 9). "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her" (vs. 11). Strong, serious words. They're easier for me, though, because I'm rooted very deeply in a strong and sturdy marriage where we've forbidden the word 'divorce' even in our thoughts. Eric and I don't entertain any other option except lifelong fidelity; in fact, there is no other option for us. This commitment takes the sting out of these particular hard sayings of Jesus. And, just like my failure with my children, this obedience and success communicates something. What does it mean when the world sees the kind of marriage that mirrors the steadfastness of God's love for his people? What do I learn about God's covenant with me as I keep my covenant with Eric? What beauty is wrought in me as I continue to persevere?
Maybe you're like me. Maybe you live with people who are sometimes difficult to welcome, but you're grateful for the boundary of God's expectations about marriage. You, like I, need both these hard sayings. But maybe the reverse is true. Perhaps for you, the words about little children are comforting, but you balk at Jesus' guidelines for your relationship with your spouse. You, too, like I, need both these hard sayings. We live in a tension between the desires of our hearts (and the persistent encouragement of the world to follow those leanings) and the direction of Jesus, which is a narrow road that only a few choose. We have that option before us daily.
Jesus, give us the determination to absorb your plan for our lives in totality. We need courage and the presence of the Holy Spirit to live this way. Thank you for clear expectations and for the gift of your word. You have not left us without a guide (your Word), and you gave us your Spirit to guide us further. May we follow these guides in a way that brings you glory. Amen.
- Sarah Marsh
How did God speak to you in Scripture today? Click here to share your reflections on God's word or read past posts. We'd love to hear from you.