Blessed Are The Barren: Studies in Mark, Pt. 56 & Thoughts On Adoption, Pt. 8

At present, I have three growing interests in the field of biblical studies and in this post, two of those have come together: the Gospel of Mark and Barrenness/Infertility issues (from a biblical-theological standpoint). I noted in an earlier post that when one facing sterility/infertility struggles reads the Bible, there seems to be little hope and much condemnation (read this post too). However, as I continue to read Mark’s Gospel, I am beginning to find a lot of hope in some of the images and words that Jesus uses, as well as in His actions. For the barren Christian couple, there is hope.

Take Mk. 13.17-9 for instance, that passage says: “How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.” We find the parallel to this passage in Luke’s account at verse 23 and following: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming...”

In both of these works, Jesus’ admonition is found in an eschatological discourse. What I mean by “eschatological discourse” here is this: eschatology is the study of the end of something, often thought of as the study of the end of the world (but not always, and certainly not in either of these passage) and discourse is meant to denote a speech or conversation here. So, Jesus is giving a talk here about the end of something, particularly, the end of God’s people being mistreated and taken advantage of by a corrupt political and religious system. Jesus could be looking ahead to the battle that took place in 70 AD that led to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple (and by relation, the sinful practices that were taking place in the Temple).

In Mark’s account, emphasis is placed on Jesus’ statement about mothers who are nursing their children. In Luke’s account, emphasis is placed on women whose breasts are dry or to put it differently, barren women. Jesus is saying that as the fight draws near, women are going to be threatened, mistreated, taken from their homes, forced to flee, etc. It is going to be a tough time. But it is going to be much harder for women who have children than it will women who do not. Why? Because women with children will have to see their children suffer. Women who have no children will not have to deal with that. Thus, as B. Pitre has shown, in an interesting twist, Jesus is saying here that the women without children should consider that a blessing.

That Jesus blessed barren women runs counter to much of the mentality of the Old Testament. There, it appears over and over that barren women are cursed by God and do not have His favor. The psalmist’s admonition that children are a gift from God is true but as Jesus points out, context is crucial. In the impending context, the demise of Jerusalem, it is actually going to seem like a curse for a parent to have to see their child endure such harsh cruelties and realities. So, Jesus blesses the barren women and warns those with child or carrying child.

We are prone to overlooking the fact that Jesus blessed the barren because in our society today, we still act as if women with children are better than those without. For Jesus, this is just not the case. For Jesus, the context of one’s life situation has a lot to do with whether or not the situation of a birth is a blessing or hardship. Certainly, there are many barren women, especially godly barren women, who are much more deserving of a child than others. Certainly there are barren women who are much more fit to raise a child than an irresponsible teenager who can get pregnant and have a child. Certainly there are situations that are good for a child and a parent and there are situations that are not.

The fact remains, however, we must read Jesus’ words here as a qualification of all of those stories in the Hebrew Scriptures where it appears that women who are barren are under a heavy curse. Just as well, we might acknowledge that today, suffering is brought on to children whose parents are not ready to raise them. In other words, instead of helping eradicate the world struggle of starving, homeless and struggling children, many irresponsible people continue to have kids. It seems to me that Jesus might say to such people, “Be warned; woe to you.” It also seems to me that Jesus might say to those who are responsible (and perhaps barren): “Do what you can to fix the situation, to help alleviate the struggle and to ensure that these kids never have to face a day of direness and dread.”

This is where adoption comes to mind. While adoption in antiquity was often done to extend the male’s lineage, it seems to me that there are certainly cases where adoption (even if that particular word wasn’t used to describe the situation) where compassion came into play (e.g. I’m thinking here of Moses’ story, etc.). So, for those of you who are sterile or barren, there is hope for you. Perhaps, while you are struggling with barrenness, you are alleviated from bigger, worse struggles. Perhaps, also, you might begin to think about adoption--choosing to love a child! Either way, remember this: Jesus loves you and indeed, blesses you.

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