This Week’s Focus: Love and Other Kid Stuff
Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 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, let no one separate.” Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 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.” People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. Mark 10:2-16
No matter how many times they lose, the Pharisees never seem to tire of playing gottcha-games with Jesus. This time they want to trip him up on the finer points of marriage law. But Jesus doesn’t look at marriage the way they do. They are into contracts, conditions and codicils. He is all about love.
The Pharisees question Jesus about legal obligations. He answers them by describing the essence of marital love as the twain shall be one flesh. As such, he envisions marriage as a blessed state, sanctified by God to enlist loving couples as his partners in the work of Creation. Rabbinic law and custom had codified a distinctly second class status for married women. A man could simply declare a marriage dissolved. A woman enjoyed no comparable privilege. Jesus sweeps this inequality aside. He declares husband and wife to be one flesh and he treats them as one flesh, inseparably bound by love.
Through this married love we bring successive generations into being. And it is the faith formation of these successive generations that is the focus of the second part of this gospel. Jesus is preaching and a group of parents want some of his goodness to rub off on their kids. The scene is so easy to visualize. The parents are pushing forward. The kids are being kids. And the disciples are trying to maintain some kind of order. The results are a sublimely teachable moment. Jesus declares his unconditional commitment to love, even at the expense of decorum. Let the children come to me…for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
Taken together, these two brief lessons can be seen as the New Testament in microcosm. Love trumps legalism. God’s priorities are not the world’s priorities. The proud and the powerful are put on notice: Whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it. And to cap it all, the love of Jesus is always accessible. It’s there for the taking, as when: He embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.
Not a word of what he said to the children is recorded in scripture, but what a powerful lesson he preached. He swept aside the barriers raised against the children. He did not just talk to them of God’s love. He held them in that love and blessed them with it. In imitation of Christ’s powerful lesson, St. Francis urges us: “Preach the gospel at all times…use words when necessary.” What a lesson for those of us still too inhibited or politically correct to proclaim Christ to the world. While we gather our courage, let our lives and our love loudly do the preaching for us.
God love you!