Gospel Reading: Mark 10: 2-16
Some Pharisees approached Jesus and asked, “Is it against the law for a man to divorce his wife?” They were testing him, he answered them, “what did Moses command you? “Moses allowed us” they said, “to draw up a writ of dismissal and so to divorce.” Then Jesus said to them, “it was because you were so unteachable that he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female, this is why a man must leave father and mother and the two become one body. They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide.” Back in the house the disciples questioned him again about this, and he said to them, “The man who divorces his wife and marries another is guilty of adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another she is guilty of adultery too.” People were bringing little children to him, for him to touch them. The disciples turned them away, but Jesus saw this he was indignant and said to them. “Let the little children come to me; do not stop the; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. I tell you solemnly, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. Then he put his arms round them, laid his hands on them and gave them his blessing.
MARK 10: 2-16
This gospel is in two distinct sections: Verses 2-12, in answer to a question about divorce, Jesus reminds his hearers of the beauty of God’s original vision of man and woman united in a life-long harmonious relationship. And affirms their equal dignity and equal responsibility for the protection of marriage; In Verses13-16, the disciples display the common cultural attitude to children at that time. They were bottom of the social ladder, afforded little or no value or dignity in society or religion, and were not considered worthy of the attention of someone like Jesus. But in keeping with his profound respect for the marginalised, excluded and defenceless Jesus warmly embraced and welcomed the children and set them us as models for those who hoped to enter the kingdom.
Where did this happen? Jesus left Galilee and the northern Gentile territory and journeyed south to the far side of the Jordan. This region, Perea, was governed by Herod Antipas, on behalf of the Romans. It was in this same region that John the Baptist had been arrested and later killed by Herod, after John had condemned him for marrying his brother Philip’s wife.
When did this happen? Jesus had resolved to take his message to Jerusalem where he knew he would encounter opposition, rejection and death. On the journey he was determined to impart his vision and equip his disciples for their mission ahead. Jerusalem is now drawing ever closer.
Who was there? The Pharisees and Jesus (V 2-12). The Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus. They hoped that Jesus’ answer to their question about divorce would incur the wrath of Herod Antipas and that as a result he would suffer the same fate as John the Baptist.
V13-16 – The people who were bringing the children to Jesus; the interfering disciples who tried to block them; and the children whom Jesus welcomed, embraced and blessed.
What happened? The gospel is in two sections but the common thread linking both sections is the attitude of Jesus towards those who had no voice in Jewish society, no one to defend them. Here we see Jesus as the voice of the voiceless – women and children – the defender and protector of the vulnerable, marginalised and excluded.
The Pharisees’ question was clearly a very sexist one – only a man had the right to divorce his wife. Moses had allowed only men to divorce their wives – Deuteronomy 24: 1-4. This was a fiercely patriarchal society where women had no rights, no status, no personal dignity. They were the property of their husbands and could be discarded very easily – in some interpretations of the law it was enough grounds for divorce if she displeased her husband in any way, even burnt his dinner!! A married woman’s greatest fear was that she would be divorced, left unprotected, without a name. The force behind Jesus’ response came from his total conviction that man and woman were of equal value and dignity in the eyes of God in their origin and destiny and were therefore to be treated with equal respect. In relation to marriage Jesus was calling man and woman back to God’s original vision for complementarity and harmony in their relationship. This is beautifully captured in the first reading, in the delight and joy of Adam as he beholds his new companion for the first time, “This at last is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh..
When the disciples questioned him later about his reply he went even further. According to the Jewish patriarchal system, if a man committed adultery it was the male members of the woman’s family (father and brothers) who were considered to have been insulted, not the woman. Upholding her dignity Jesus makes it clear that the man commits adultery against her – that it is the woman who has been violated. And again, in recognition of the woman’s equal dignity, and therefore responsibility, if a woman divorces her husband and marries another she commits adultery too.
V13-16 – As far as the disciples were concerned the little children were considered to be non-persons and therefore not worthy of Jesus’ time or attention. But for Jesus the children were gifts from God and to be treated with reverence and respect – he warmly welcomed them, “put his arms around them, laid his hands on their heads and gave them his blessing.” Furthermore, he reminded his disciples that they had much to learn from the attitude of little children, namely: openness, trust, dependence, humility and gratitude, if they wished to enter life in the reign of God.
Can we remember times when we were moved by the pain and suffering of the weak and vulnerable in our families, society, or world, and we were inspired to speak out courageously in their defence, and demand justice, equality and respect for all? “The Jesus said to them, it was because you were so unteachable…”
Remember the experience of attending marriage ceremonies and celebrations (perhaps our own), where a couple entered joyfully and trustingly and with heartfelt commitment into that wonderful vision of Jesus: that “the two would become one…” in body, mind and heart, and forever.
Who were the voices, in times of conflict and division, who kept before us the dream of oneness and harmony between different classes, races, religions and cultures? “They are no longer two therefore but one body.”
Remember the tragic times as a church and society where we have failed to respect and cherish women and children, treating them as inferior, oppressing or abusing them? And who were the voices who brought us to our senses?
Remember beautiful moments of showing tenderness and affection to our children and being conscious of a mutual blessing. “Then he put his arms round them, laid his hands on them and gave them his blessing.”
Can we remember concrete experiences that have shown us how much we have to learn from our children – their openness, trust, joy, dependence and gratitude? “Anyone who does not enter the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.