The Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
7 October 2018 on board the MS Eurodam
Genesis 2, 18-24 + Psalm 128 + Hebrews 2, 9-11 + Mark 10, 2-16
As much as some might and in spite of how many have tried to make it so, these verses are not about marriage as we know it. To make it so is to focus on the example rather than the issue. It would be like getting all interested in the waves out there rather than the wind that causes them. What is at stake here is what it means for all of us to be made in the image of God; men, women and children. What is questioned here is whether or not a man is more important than a woman, and whether or not adults are more important than children. To get their attention, and to return the challenge of those Pharisees who come looking for a way to trap him, Jesus out smarts them with their own scriptures, and proposes something so startling and so unheard of, that they are left in confusion.
In their system of values, it was OK for a man to commit adultery. It was not OK for a woman to do so. In their system of values, a husband could get rid of a wife he no longer found helpful or productive, but not so for the woman. If she had a husband who was useless and slept around, she was stuck where she was. Moses thought that was so unfair, that he required a “Bill of divorce” from the man so that the woman would be free to be taken in marriage by someone else. And that was because men had become so hard-hearted that they were leaving the first wife with nowhere to go. Then in the second part of this episode, Jesus reacts very strongly to the behavior and attitude of the disciples toward children. It’s as though those children were not worthy to touch or be embraced by Jesus. The disciples seem to think that the Blessing of Jesus was just for adults.
So, this is not about marriage at all. It is about equality and worthiness in the sight of God. It is about affirming the fact that God made us all, and in God’s sight no one is more important, more blessed, or worthier than anyone else. In this conversation with the Pharisees, Jesus goes far beyond the question of divorce to teach about the meaning of human relationships in general. When he speaks to the disciples in private, he reinterpreted the legal explanations of the day by treating men and women as equals before the law. This really shook up everyone, and it was something totally new to their thinking. We are hardly finished working out that matter of equality today.
Behind the reflection of Jesus on marriage lies the question of all human relations which is why Mark follows up with the story of the children. Just as the Pharisees debated what could be done with a troublesome woman, the disciples did not want children bothering their master. Of course, all of this was a threat to the assumed prestige of the disciples when Jesus seemed to prefer the unimportant or disreputable to company with them. Like the Pharisees who debated the right to divorce, the disciples’ treatment of the children demonstrated their willingness to make distinctions between important people like themselves and those who could simply be dismissed.
Jesus would have none of that. With all of us made in the image and likeness of God, an offense against one of the least is equal to an offense against whoever is considered the greatest. Isn’t it fun to close this complicated Gospel with the image of Jesus tackled by a throng of kids? Perhaps when we lose all the inhibitions adulthood seems to impose on us, and find a way to get around all the rules and regulations that make some more important than others, we will all know the embrace, the blessing, and the love of God poured out through Jesus Christ.