“What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them?”Hebrews 2:6
God’s value of human beings is far greater than the value we sometimes give to one another. If we would learn to serve God, then we need to allow God through Christ to reset our value systems so that we can better see the world through God’s steadfastly loving and compassionate eyes.
A recent NPR headline read, “They Give To Others Even Though They Barely Have Enough To Feed Their Family,” and the accompanying story profiled people around the world who have fallen on hard times during the pandemic, yet still give to help others.
Yroné Barreto, a housecleaner who left Venezuala with her daughter and granddaughters in order to find work in Ecuador, but who has watched jobs dry up during the pandemic, still gives bread to someone on the street, or buys an ice cream for a child, as she says, “to help them keep fighting.” Lloyd Abshier, interviewed as he gratefully picked up food at a mobile food pantry in Tennessee (the first time Lloyd had come to this food distribution site they ran out of food before he got any), described losing his job as a truck driver because of health problems, trying to support his wife and children ages 14 and 18, and yet still, when Lloyd encountered a man in need of help at a local store, he gave the man all that he had, $30.
These and other people in this NPR news story are barely scraping by themselves, yet they can see the worth in those around them who are also struggling, and they try to help, they try to make a difference.
Too often in our world today, we go around consciously or unconsciously deciding who does and does not have worth, based on their socioeconomic status and all sorts of other factors. We get stuck in human stuff and miss seeing the God stuff and God trying to lead us to a better way that includes seeing the worth and value of the people around us. People in Jesus’ day were much the same, which should be both comforting (we’re not alone in this sinful struggle) and disheartening (won’t we as humans ever learn what really matters?)
In today’s gospel text, when Jesus says that receiving God’s kingdom is like taking hold of a child in a kind embrace, Jesus is reminding the disciples and us that God is not discovered in searching for greatness and status, but in weakness and humility. In meeting and welcoming those to whom society does not ascribe worth, but whom God sees as little less than the angels. We remember that children in Jesus’ day did not have societal status and worth the way children in our society do today. So, in our scripture texts, last week and this week, when Jesus lays claim a place for the children “to come to him” it is a reminder that our striving to follow Jesus journey is not about aggrandizement and being upwardly mobile, rubbing shoulders with those who the world deems “matter.” Receiving God’s kingdom is not a way to become first, but to identify with those who themselves lack status, serving and loving alongside our fellow human beings because it is what is right to do for Jesus’ sake, not because we expect some kind of reward. Giving and serving not because we think we are “all that” or because we have “all that” but because when we look at anyone, anyone around us, we are looking at someone beloved to God.
Children, adults, wealthy, poor, United States citizen or undocumented refugee.
Jesus’ work to upset the world’s order and lay bare our true poverty as humans, that is the sin that keeps us distant from God and each other, is further seen in today’s gospel text as Jesus addresses divorce.
Let us remember as we consider this text that marriage in Jesus’ time was not organized around love between two persons, but around matters of property and status and honor. Wives and children were technically the property of the husbands in a patriarchal society. Much Jewish Mishnah – rabbinic collections of Jewish law – was devoted to discussing what was appropriate grounds for a husband to divorce his wife. Was it an unsatisfactory meal? (I’m not kidding, this was actually discussed in the Rabbi’s writings) Or a serious matter of immorality? In any case, women had no recourse for divorce. Not that any husbands cooked, but if they burned the pasta, their wives could not cast them out into the street until they took enough classes to win the Great British Baking Show. Obviously, I’m being a bit extreme here to prove a point.
As with telling his disciples to let the children come to him, Jesus speaking about divorce is intended to turn the societal norms of his day on their head. “What are human beings that you are mindful of them?” asks the writer of Hebrews. Human beings have been made in the image of God – they have been made beautiful in God’s eyes. And despite all of the ways that sin seeks to break down the worth and dignity of humans in each other’s eyes, in Jesus’ time or in our time, by devaluing children or women and the holy and mutual relationships God intends us to build with one another, God is calling us to a still more excellent way.
This side of heaven we will not likely build a world where divorce is not at times necessary, nor will we likely be able to bring an end to the brokenness and sin that lead to vast economic disparity and poverty and the devaluing of some human lives over others. Nevertheless, God through Jesus who climbed to the cross for the purpose of breaking the bonds of sin that ensnare the human race, calls us to strive for a still more excellent way. To see each other as human beings made in the image of God and valued by God. We can lightly toss anyone or anything away that God so deeply cares about, and with God in Christ leading the way, we may even find that in our poverty and weakness we, too, have room to care and share with others in need, thereby coming face to face with God who knows our every need. Amen.