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Friday, 01 October 2021 10:07

Celebrating At Home - 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gracious and generous love

No doubt, many will find this Sunday’s Gospel difficult reading.

One of the great themes of Mark’s Gospel is that, in Jesus, all things are being restored to God’s original purpose. That gives us a bit of context for the words of Jesus.

Among Jewish scholars and rabbis of Jesus’ time there was often fierce debate about the grounds for divorce permitted by Jewish Law (Deuteronomy 24:1). As the Gospel recalls, a man could draw up a ‘writ of dismissal’, give it to his wife and they would be considered divorced. At least one line of thought allowed the husband to do this for almost any reason whatever. In a way, the writ was meant as a kind of protection for the woman lest she be accused of infidelity.

When the Pharisees approach Jesus, they already seem to be aware of his teaching about divorce and may be trying to trap him into saying something against Moses and the Law. Something they could use against him.

Jesus, however, talks not about the Law, but about God’s original intention for marriage using quotes from the Book of Genesis.

The words of Jesus make clear that marriage is part of God’s design for human beings. The rich imagery of the husband being so drawn to his wife that he leaves home and family and the two become ‘one body’ implies great love, warmth, intimacy and companionship. When God draws human beings together like this, man must not divide them.

Later, the disciples question Jesus about his teaching. It is important to understand that Jesus’ reply is about a situation in which one party in the marriage divorces the other in order to marry someone else. It is not talking about a person fleeing an abusive relationship or one which has failed for some other reason. So, it is important not to take these words of Jesus and use them as a judgement on those who have divorced, or who have remarried some time later.

It is also worth remembering that the Church itself has a process to assist people whose marriages fail, often enabling them to marry again.

The reply that Jesus gives recognises husband and wife as equal partners in marriage. No longer, according to Jesus, is it permissible for a husband to divorce his wife ‘because he finds something displeasing about her’ (Deut 24:1) and neither can the wife.

Jesus does the same thing in the following story about the little children. When people (probably their mothers) bring the little children to Jesus for a blessing, he disciples, acting as minders, shoo them away. Once again, the disciples have got things wrong, and Jesus rebukes them. They seem to have forgotten already Jesus’ teaching in last week’s Gospel about welcoming the little child.

Jesus astounds the disciples by insisting that the Kingdom of God belongs to those who welcome it like little children, who open-heartedly embrace the Kingdom as sheer gift from a gracious God. The Kingdom cannot be earned, or bought, or bargained for. It is ours for the taking. All we need is the conversion of heart to believe in a God who is so good and so gracious as to give us the Kingdom freely and without measure.

In both parts of the Gospel today, Jesus teaches that married women children and are not to be treated as possessions or objects, but with dignity and respect. As well as recalling God’s initial intention for marriage, Jesus also recalls God’s initial intention about the treatment of other people including those thought to be of lesser or no account.

The disciples need to learn that only those who receive the kingdom of God with the openness and receptivity of a child will be able to enter into the mystery of God’s gracious and generous love.

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Celebrating at Home is a Liturgy of the Word centred around the Gospel reading for each Sunday. It includes a reflection on the Gospel and prayers.

It can be used personally or with your family. Parts for all to pray are given in bold print and all the other parts can be shared among those present.

We hope that Celebrating at Home will be a source of nourishment and strength for all who use it.

In the room you decide to use for this prayer you could have a lighted candle, a crucifix and the Bible. These symbols help keep us mindful of the sacredness of our time of prayer and can help us feel connected with our local worshipping communities.

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