This Sunday, as we gather and open our hearts to the Word of God, we continue to reflect on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. A few weeks ago, we heard that to be a disciple of Jesus, one needed to deny themselves, pick up their cross and follow him. An invitation and a challenge that will demand from us courage, perseverance, and trust. In the world community of faith and love that Christ is creating, the greatest will be last of all and servant of all; that those who are consider least will be the most important and will be the ones where we will encounter the presence of Christ.
Last week, we were told that “Those who are not against us are for us” that even where there are differences, we can still see the goodness and unity God is creating. Also, we heard the warning not to be a stumbling block for anyone searching for truth and meaning in their lives. As we respond to these demands with faith, commitment, and love, we truly become salt and light for our world.
It is in this context of discipleship, that the author of Mark’s gospel places Jesus’ response to the Pharisee’s question about reasons why a man may divorce his wife. Notices that Jesus does not enter into a debate about the lawfulness of divorce. Rather, he quotes from the Book of Genesis and speaks about the beginning which focused on marriage as a divinely ordained union.
According to the authors of Genesis, the love between married people was ordained and blessed by God, who intended that the two become one so as to be helpmates and partners in all they are. Together, married couples are to be stewards of all that God has made, and with fidelity and love commit themselves to one another, the community and the divine in ways that reveals God’s steadfast love.
There is something very sacred when people make that kind of commitment, God’s seal rest on that deeply human adventure in which two people become one. When people make that kind of commitment and when through all the ups and downs of married life, they both work hard on it to make it a life-giving relationship for each other, then this is not only something of these two people, it is also something of God. God wants it to work; God desires it to last
As we reflect on this vision, we are also mindful that this ideal is not always realized; for a variety of reasons many marriages and relationships are not lifelong.
Every morning as I pray, I give thanks for the people whose love and friendship have brought the best out of me; with gratitude and a sense of wonder I give thanks for those wonderful people. Yet as I ponder the different stages of my life, I can recall times when my fear, confusion, lack of maturity, and weaknesses closed my heart to the ideal and vision God offers to humankind. In the midst of our struggles and difficulties, it is good to be reminded that from the beginning of creation, God intended for us to live in community and be in life-giving relationship with each other and all of creation.
As we hear Jesus affirm the ideal in today’s gospel, it is important to recall the times in which he lived. It was a society in which most women had no independent means of making a living. Marriage guaranteed support for the most vulnerable members of society, women and children. For their protection, marriage had to be stable and enduring. Law forbidding divorce indicated that women and children should not be taken for granted or be left on their own. In criticizing, those who advocated divorce, especially for frivolous reasons, Jesus was taking up the cause of the poor and the weak. He was not once and for all condemning divorced persons, but he was placing himself on the side of the defenseless. A position that helps us understand Jesus’ words in today’s gospel not as a condemnation, but as an expression of compassion.
Although the social context of Jesus’ day no longer exists, his message of compassion and his desire to protect the weak and defenseless continues to apply. Whether married or divorced, whether gay or straight, all people are cherished creations of God.
May Jesus’ message of compassion and his desire to protect the weak and the defenseless, guides us as we experience the brokenness of relationships in our community.
I think this is the reason Jesus was so indignant when the disciples tried to keep children away from him. We read this in a sentimental sense, thinking of how cute children are. But that is not now people in those days thought of children. They considered them helpless and useless because they had no abilities or skills that would benefit the community. It is their helplessness that makes children attractive to Christ. It is their inability to save themselves, their eager acceptance of outside help, that made them perfect role models for people seeking to be in relationship with God and be as member of the kingdom founded on God’s truth, justice, and love. For Jesus, children contain the kingdom, because they process the right spirit; the openness to allow God’s Spirit to lead and guide them to what is right and good. As we embrace Jesus’ ideal and vision, may this gift help us to love one another into ever greater wholeness and unity.
Father Jim Bleackley, OMI
The author is Pastor at St. Joseph’s Parish in Ottawa. This reflection is prepared for Sunday, October 3, 2021