I loved the Para Olympics, as I am sure you did. Many things stood out for me, one of which was Jody Cundy's bid to secure 1km time trial gold. His attempt to secure gold ended in controversy and anger as officials denied the GB rider a restart.
Jody Cundy, is the C4 world record holder and world champion, had appealed for a second attempt as his rear wheel slipped leaving the starting gate. His reponse was fury - he turned the air blue! He reached the end of his tether - the limit of his patience.
After he had calmed down he said - "I came here to show the world what I can do and respond to the crowd that has just been amazing, especially when you are wearing a GB vest... I would like to apologise for my language, even over the noise I think you might have been able to hear it...” There’s a line which athletes like that should not cross, in terms of how we should respond when things don’t go our way, and he crossed it...
And we all have limits. And yet, here's the thing: Jesus says God is different. There appear to be no limits to the love of God & this is ultimately the message of today’s Gospel.
Jesus' disciples ask him about divorce. They remind Jesus that Moses allowed for divorce. Hebrew law permitted a man to divorce his wife for all sorts of reasons. And Jesus simply says, "From the beginning it wasn't so." This was not the way God intended things to be. And then Jesus harshly condemns divorce. Oh...
And right then the action moves to the scene with Jesus receiving little children. Little children, whom the disciples perceive as a nuisance, are to be sent away. But Jesus refuses. Instead, He received them, he hugs them, and he blesses them. Furthermore, Jesus says that in all of this, the kingdom of God is made present.
Well, what is God like? God brings people together. God desires that people who, having been once brought together, ought to stay together. God is the one who refuses to send these "little ones" away, rather He is the one who receives and embraces such as these.
We read this passage as applying to us: that is, we ought not to divorce; we ought to welcome little children. But maybe we are seeing here the great difference between God and ourselves. Maybe this is a passage not about us but about God.
We have our limits. We make promises, and with all good intentions we plan to stay together forever. But people get sick, people disappoint, people become trapped, addicted, distant, and estranged. Nobody I know wants divorce. But we have our limits. Sometimes we find it impossible to keep our promises. Sometimes promises are broken for all sorts of "good" reasons.
And we love our children. But children are demanding. To bring children into the world is to severely limit our adult freedom. Children are utterly dependent on others to do things for them they can't do for themselves. So many elect not to receive children.
Jesus makes clear that God is not like that. God is the one who, from the very beginning, makes union, fosters communion and togetherness. God is the one who brings individuals together into community. Eg - the church
We are of course "only human." There can be limits upon our love--limits upon our ability to stay with other people, particularly people in great need, and to keep our lives bound to theirs. But this truth must be sent alongside a counter truth--the love of God does not have such limits. We can attempt to separate ourselves from God, but Jesus implies here God does not separate from us. We can come to the limits of our ability to love and to persevere in love with others. But God does not come to the same limits.
In Marks’s gospel, we are on our way to seeing just how far God in Christ will go for us--all the way to death on a cross. And on his way to death of a cross, Jesus takes a moment to teach us. Once again, Jesus has set the bar rather high. The disciples of Jesus are to marry and not to divorce. The disciples of Jesus are to have love, compassion, and mercy for the needs of the "little ones" whether they be children or the poor or the severely mentally disabled or the sick and infirm. And in so many ways we will fail to live up to the Kingdom's demands.
But spread like a banner over all that is an affirmation that God loves us limited human beings in a limitless divine way. Oh, we fail in love; after all, we are "only human." But we have a God who forgives our failures, who loves us in spite of our limits to love in return.
Today, Jesus is not severe, but reminds us that in spite our inabilities, our limits and failures, God is limitlessly loving and always faithful. Let us cling to that in our limits to love and in our broken promises.