Lectio Divina: 27th Sunday of ordinary time (B)
Concerning divorce and children
Equality of wife and husband
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send Your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that You read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, You helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of Your sentence and death.
Thus the cross, that seemed to be the end of all hope, became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create silence in us so that we may listen to Your voice in creation and in the scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May Your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, may experience the force of Your resurrection and witness to others that You are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of You, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us Your Spirit. Amen.
a) A key to the reading:
In the text of today’s liturgy, Jesus gives advice concerning the relationship between wife and husband and between mothers and children. In those days, many people were excluded and marginalized. For instance, in the relationship between husband and wife, male domination prevailed. The wife did not have equal rights with the husband. In their relationship with the children, the “little” ones, there might be a “scandal” that could cause the children to lose their faith (Mark 9:42). In the relationship between husband and wife, Jesus commanded the greatest equality. In the relationship between mothers and children, He commanded the greatest warmth and tenderness.
b) A division of the text as an aid to reading:
Mark 10:2: The Pharisees’ question concerning divorce;
Mark 10:3-9: Discussion between Jesus and the Pharisees concerning divorce;
Mark 10:10-12: Conversation between Jesus and the disciples concerning divorce;
Mark 10:13-16: Jesus commands warmth and tenderness between adults and children.
c) The Text:
The Pharisees approached Jesus 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 a husband 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 Jesus 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.
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) What was the point that you liked best and which most drew your attention?
b) How does the wife’s position appear in the text?
c) How did Jesus wish the relationship between husband and wife to be?
d) What concerned the people who brought their children to Jesus?
e) What was Jesus’ reaction?
f) What practical teaching can we draw from the children?
5. A key to the reading
for those who wish to go deeper into the theme.
Mark 10:2: The Pharisees’ question concerning divorce
The Pharisees are crafty. They put Jesus to the test: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” This shows that Jesus held a different opinion from that of the Pharisees, of whom this question was never asked. They do not ask whether it is lawful for the wife to divorce her husband. This never crossed their minds. This is a clear sign of strong male domination and of marginalization of the wife in the social life of the times.
Mark 10:3-9: Jesus’ reply: a man cannot divorce his wife
Instead of replying, Jesus asks, “What did Moses command you?” The Law allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send the wife away (Deut 24:1). This law illustrates the domination of the male. The husband could divorce his wife, but the wife did not have the same right. Jesus explains that Moses acted thus because of the hardness of heart of the people. However, God’s intention was different when He created human beings. Jesus goes back to the Creator’s intention (Gen 1:27; 2:24). He denies the husband the right to divorce his wife. He establishes on earth the obligation of the husband towards his wife and orders the greatest equality.
Mark 10:10-12: Equality between husband and wife
When they go home, the disciples question Jesus again concerning this matter of divorce. Jesus draws conclusions and reaffirms equality of rights and duties between husband and wife. Matthew’s Gospel (cf. Mt 19:10-12) gives an explanation of a question put by the disciples concerning this theme. They say, “If this is how things are between husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” Perhaps they prefer not to get married rather than get married without the privilege of dominating the wife. Jesus goes deeper into the matter. He presents three cases when a person may not get married: (1) impotence, (2) castration and (3) for the sake of the Kingdom. However, for a man not to get married because he does not wish to share equality with the wife is inadmissible in the new law of love! Both marriage and celibacy have to be at the service of the Kingdom and not at the service of selfish interests. Neither can be a reason for keeping male domination of husband over wife. Jesus presents a new type of relation between the two. It is not lawful in marriage for a man to dominate the wife or vice versa.
Mark 10:13: The disciples prevent people from drawing near with their children.
Some people brought their children so that Jesus might caress them. The disciples tried to prevent this. Why would they want to prevent this? The text does not tell us. One possibility might be due to Jewish law. Chapter 15 of Leviticus is the basis for the purity laws of the time during niddatah, which is a Hebrew word for “separation” and a term used for menstruation. This rendered a woman of childbearing age impure for 7 days each month, as well as those in physical contact with her, which became an issue in families with children. Abnormal bleeding as well as childbirth were included in this. Touching a woman in this state, or what she sat or had laid on, caused ritual impurity until sunset. Even in recent times there was a saying that “children should be seen and not heard.” They were seen as the least important and influential in society.
Mark 10:14-16: Jesus reprehends the disciples and welcomes the children
Jesus’ reaction teaches the opposite: “Let the children come to Me, do not hinder them!” He embraces the children, welcomes them and blesses them. When it a question of welcoming someone and promoting fraternity, Jesus is not worried about the laws of purity; He is not afraid of transgressing the law. His gesture teaches us that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it!” What does this sentence mean? 1) A child receives everything from his father. He does not merit what he receives; he lives in this gratuitous love. 2) Fathers receive children as gifts from God and treat them with care. Fathers are not to be concerned with holding dominion over their children, but with loving them and educating them.
b) Added information for a better understanding of the text
• Jesus welcomes and defends the life of the little ones
On several occasions, Jesus insists on the welcome due to little ones, to children. “Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in My name, welcomes Me” (Mark 9:37). “If anyone gives so much as a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42). He asked that no one despise the little ones (Matthew 18:10). At the last judgment the just will be welcomed for having given food “to one of the least of these brothers of Mine” (Matthew 25:40).
In the Gospels the expression “little ones” (in Greek elachistoi, mikroi or nepioi). Sometimes this means “children”, sometimes those excluded from society. It is not easy to differentiate. Sometimes that which is “little” is the “child” and no one else. The child belongs to a category of “little”, of the excluded. Having said this, it is not easy to distinguish what originates from the time of Jesus and what originates from the communities when the Gospels were written. Taking this into consideration, we can arrive at the context of exclusion that flourished at that time and the picture that existed of Jesus in the first communities: Jesus takes the side of the little ones, of the excluded, and takes on their defense. It is impressive when we look at all that Jesus did in defense of the life of children, of the little ones.
To welcome and not to scandalize. This is one of Jesus’ hardest words against those who give scandal to little ones, that is, those who are the reason for their disbelief in God. For these, it would be better if a millstone were hung around their necks and that they throw themselves to the bottom of the sea (Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2; Matthew 18:6).
To welcome and to touch. The mothers with their children in their arms drew near to Jesus to ask for a blessing. The apostles told them to go elsewhere. Jesus is not troubled as they are. He corrects the disciples and welcomes the mothers and their children. He touches them and embraces them. “Let the little children alone and let them come to Me; do not stop them!” (Mark 10:13-16; Matthew 19:13-15).
To identify oneself with the little ones. Jesus identifies with the children. Whoever welcomes a child, “welcomes Me” (Mark 9:37). “In so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40).
To become a child once more. Jesus asks that the disciples become children again and accept the kingdom like a child. Failing that, it is impossible to enter the Kingdom of God (Mark 10:15; Matthew 18:3; Luke 9:46-48). Let the child be the teacher of the adult. This was not the norm. We are used to the opposite.
To defend the right of those who cry. When Jesus entered the temple and upset the tables of the money changers, it was the children who cried. “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Matthew 21:15). Jesus was criticized by the chief priests and the scribes, but He defended the children and in their defense He quotes Scripture (Mt 21:16).
To be thankful for the Kingdom present in children. Great is Jesus’ joy when He hears that children, the little ones, have understood the things of the Kingdom proclaimed to the peoples. “I thank You Father!” (Mt 11:25-26) Jesus recognizes that the little ones understand the things of the Kingdom better than the doctors.
To welcome and to care for. Many are the children He welcomes, cares for or resurrects: the twelve year old daughter of Jairus (Mk 5:41-42), the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mk 7:29-30), the son of the widow of Naim (Lk 7:14-15) the young epileptic (Mk 9:25-26), the son of the Centurion (Lk 7:9-10), the son of the public administrator (Jn 4:50), the young lad with five loaves and two fishes (Jn 6:9).
• The context of our text in Mark’s Gospel
Our text (Mk 10:2-16) is part of a long instruction given by Jesus to His disciples (Mk 8:27 to 10:45). At the beginning of this instruction, Mark places the healing of the anonymous blind man of Bethsaida in Galilee (Mk 8:22-26); at the end, the healing of the blind Bartimaeus of Jericho in Judea (Mk 10:46-52). The two healings are symbolic of what will take place between Jesus and His disciples. The disciples too were blind since “they had eyes that do not see” (Mk 8:18). They had to regain their sight; they had to let go of ideology that prevented them from seeing clearly; they had to accept Jesus as He was and not as they wanted Him to be. This long instruction aims at curing the blindness of the disciples. It is like a brief guide, a kind of catechism, using Jesus’ own words. The following sequence shows the scheme of the instruction:
The healing of a blind man 8:22-26
1st proclamation 8:27-38
Teaching the disciplesabout the Servant Messiah 9:1-29
2nd proclamation 9:30-37
Teaching the disciplesabout conversion 9:38 to 10:31
3rd proclamation 10:32-45
Healing of Bartimaeus the blind man 10:46-52
As we can see, the teaching consists of three proclamations of the Passion Mk 8:27-38; 9:30-37; 10:32-45. Between the first and second proclamation we have a series of teachings to help us understand that Jesus is the Servant Messiah (Mk 9:1-29). Between the second and third proclamations we have a series of teachings that clarify the kind of conversions required at various levels of life in order to accept Jesus as the Servant Messiah (Mk 9:38 to 10:31). The background of the teachings is the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. From the beginning to the end of this long instruction, Mark says that Jesus is on a journey to Jerusalem (Mk 8:27; 9:30,33; 10:1,17,32), where He will meet the cross.
Each of the three proclamations concerning the Passion is accompanied by gestures and words of incomprehension on the part of the disciples (Mk 8:32; 9:32-34; 10:32-37), and by directives from Jesus, which comment on the lack of comprehension of the disciples and teaches them how they must behave (Mk 8:34-38; 9:35-37; 10:35-45). A full understanding of Jesus’ teaching is not achieved only through theoretical instruction, without any practical commitment, but by walking with Him on the journey of service, from Galilee to Jerusalem. Those who wish to uphold Peter’s idea, that of a glorious Messiah without the cross (Mk 8:32-33), will understand nothing, nor will they have the authentic attitude of willing disciples. They will go on being blind, seeing people as trees (Mk 8:24). Without the cross it is not possible to understand who Jesus is and what it means to follow Jesus. The journey of the teaching is a journey of surrender, of abandonment, of service, of availability and acceptance of the conflict, knowing that there will be a resurrection. The cross is not a casual incident, up to a certain point on the journey. Only love and service can be crucified! Whoever gives his life in service for others suffers because he inconveniences those who snatch privileges.
6. Psalm 23 (23)
The Lord is my Shepherd, climbing Calvary
The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want;
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters;
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil;
for Thou art with me;
Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank You for the Word that has enabled us to understand the will of the Father. May Your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice what Your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, Your mother, not only listen to, but also practice the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.