Year B: Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Let the Children come to Me
Mark 10: 2-16
The Pharisees approached and asked, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” They were testing him. He said to them in reply, “What did Moses command you?” They replied, “Moses permitted him to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.” But Jesus told them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment.” But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” In the house the disciples again questioned him about this. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he became indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.
- “Hardness of heart” leads to separation from God and God’s original design for relationship. Where do you experience hardness of heart in yourself and in others?
- Jesus points us to the realities of marriage beyond a legal contract. Is it possible for our marriage to be legally sound but spiritually dead, within the law but outside of God’s intention at the same time? How do you tend your marriage in terms of spiritual fidelity, beyond what the law requires?
- What is the source of your dignity? How do you experience dignity within yourself and others?
- Who are “the least, or those without dignity in your day-to-day life and how do you receive them in Jesus’ name?
- If you currently have young grandchildren, what has their openness revealed to you about God?
Mark 10: 2-16
Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD
Mark once more turns to Jesus’ controversies with the Pharisees. Mark tells us, “The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked, ‘Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?’ They were testing him.”
Why is this question a test? In the past we have seen that the Pharisees are very critical of Jesus because they interpret the law legalistically, and Jesus does not. Perhaps the Pharisees ask this question to see if Jesus will be faithful to their interpretation of the law on the issue of divorce. Jesus must suspect that this is their motive, because instead of answering the question Jesus asks them, “What did Moses command you?” Jesus is asking the Pharisees to tell him how they themselves interpret the law.
The Pharisees reply, “Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.” The Pharisees are referring to Deuteronomy when they make this statement. There we read that if a man, after marrying a woman, comes to dislike her, he can write out “a bill of divorce and dismiss her.”, thus dismissing her from his house” (see Deut 24:1-4). So, from the point of view of the law, divorce was allowed. The answer to their question, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” should be, “Yes.”
As the Pharisees must have suspected, Jesus does not agree with this law. Although Jesus does not deny that the law does take the right of a man to divorce his wife for granted, he says, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment….” Then Jesus quotes the law himself (the first five books of the Old Testament are referred to as the law) by quoting Genesis. Jesus says, “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”
In the Book of Genesis, the book that Jesus quotes, God creates both male and female in God’s own image (Gen 1:27). The man and the woman both have dignity. The law was assuming that the male was the only person with any rights. The law never addresses how serious an offense a woman must commit in order to be dismissed. Nor does it give a woman the right to dismiss her husband if should find something displeasing about him.
Jesus finds the law very lacking when compared to the image of marriage that Genesis presents. A marriage should be a union of mutual love and respect, in which the two become one flesh. The union of man and woman in marriage is part of the created order. What God has joined together no human being, not even the husband, must separate.
Mark does not tell us how the Pharisees react to Jesus’ answer. He does tell us, “In the house the disciples again questioned Jesus about this.” Jesus repeats his teaching on the permanence of marriage and once more points out the deficiencies in the Deuteronomic law. Jesus says, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” With this answer Jesus emphasizes the fact that the woman too should have rights. For a husband to dismiss a wife and marry another is to violate the first wife’s rights; it is to commit adultery “against her.” To emphasize his point, Jesus adds, “And if she divorces her husband…” A woman, take the initiative to divorce her husband? The law never even addresses the possibility that she might do such a thing. By suggesting this possibility Jesus is pointing out that the woman too has rights, but that neither husband nor wife can separate what God has joined together.
In Mark’s Gospel no exception to Jesus’ teaching on divorce is mentioned. However, by the time Matthew’s Gospel is written the church evidently had begun to make some exceptions (see Matt 19:9). Our Gospel ends with the story of Jesus welcoming the children. Children, like women, were not considered to be of equal dignity to men in Jesus’ society. The disciples “rebuked” the people who were bringing the children to Jesus. They evidently had not yet learned the lesson that we heard Jesus trying to teach them just two Sundays ago when he embraced a child and said, whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me… ” (Mark 9:37).
Jesus becomes indignant with the disciples and insists that the children be allowed to come to him. Jesus tells the disciples that “whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Not only should the disciples stop dismissing children, but they should learn from children. Children can teach them something about the trust and openness that is necessary in order to enter the kingdom of God.
Both with the Pharisees and with the disciples Jesus had to emphasize his insight that every human being is of great dignity and must be treated lovingly. For any human being to dismiss another is to fail to treat with proper dignity a person made in God’s own image.
Restoring Original Consciousness
Contemporary spirituality often espouses a dimensional model. We are a mysterious unity of social, physical, psychological, and spiritual dimensions. Although consciousness focuses on one or another of these dimensions, all four are always present. Also, these dimensions mutually influence one another, but the nature and degree of this influence is difficult to gauge. Finally, these dimensions have their own laws and operations. As classic spirituality has always contended, the physical does not work like the spiritual: “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6).
When the distinct dynamics of the spiritual dimension are discussed, some wild ideas emerge. As spiritual, we transcend form. We are more than our physical, social, and mental natures. Ken Wilber traces this intuition back to a childhood experience: Almost every child wonders, at some time or another, “What would I be like if I had different parents?” In other words, the child realizes, in a very innocent and inarticulate fashion, that consciousness itself (the inner Witness or I-ness) is not solely limited by the particular outer forms of mind and body that it animates. Every child seems to sense that he [or she] would still be “I” even if he [or she] had different parents and a different body. The child knows he [or she] would look different and act differently, but he [or she] would still be an “I.” The child asks the question, Would I still be me if I had different parents?—because he [or she] wants the parents to explain his [or her] transcendence, the fact that he [or she] would still seem to be and feel the same “inner I-ness” even though he [or she] had different parents. The parents have probably long ago forgotten their own transpersonal self, and so cannot give an answer acceptable to the child. But for a moment, most parents are taken aback, and sense that there is something of immense importance here that somehow, they just can’t quite remember.
(No Boundary: Eastern and Western Approaches to Personal Growth [Boston: Shambhala, 1985] 134)
But not all adults forget. When Picasso was asked about his development, he baldly stated, “I don’t develop. I am.” Alice Munro, the Canadian short-story writer, said she was the same person at nineteen, thirty-nine, and sixty. “I think there is some root in your nature that doesn’t change . . . I’m not absolutely sure of this, it’s just something that I like to look at” (Toronto Globe and Mail, September 29, 2001).
Christians call this transcendent self the child of God. They stress our full reality transcends the physical, social, and mental dimension, but this transcendent self is itself grounded in the transcendence of God. When we are in this child of God consciousness, we know we are more than the circumstances that afflict us. We also know we can trust our ultimate relationship with the Source. When Jesus urges the disciples not to push away the children, he is pushing them toward this consciousness. The code phrase is: Embrace the child and enter the kingdom.
Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle B, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2005 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc.
Spiritual Commentaries and Teachings are excerpted from The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers by John Shea © 2004 by Order of Saint Benedict. Published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. Used with permission.