Year B – Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Let the Children Come to me, in Families! (Mk 10: 2-16)

,Once again, the gospel text of today invites us to revisit Jesus’ mind regarding marriage and family. I would like to look at two dimensions emerging from the longer version of the gospel text of today: (1) the role of unity and permanence of marriage in order to ensure the wellbeing of the couples; and (2) welcoming children in the context of the healthy family.

Unity & Permanence that Ensures the Wellbeing of Couples in Marriage

One thing that has intrigued me in the gospel of today is: if the Pharisees knew very well that the Law of Moses allowed divorce, why were they asking it to Jesus: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Was it because they had heard Jesus speak about this elsewhere, and they found Jesus’ position on marriage being a clear break from the tradition of the Law of Moses? If it was difficult for the Pharisees – the most serious admirers of Jesus among the orthodox Jews of his time – to accept the teaching of Jesus regarding marriage, it must of have been even more difficult for the early Christian community to accept this teaching. Yet, it is recorded without any qualification (exceptions) in the earliest of the gospels – the Gospel of Mark. (Matthew would add a qualification: “Now I say this to you: anyone who divorces his wife – I am not speaking of an illicit marriage – and marries another, is guilty of adultery” (Mt 19:8)).

What the Law of Moses is attempting to do – in many dimensions – is to regulate the animal instinctual behavior in human beings. The Law invites human beings to behave as humans: an eye for an eye is better than killing a man just because he hurt your eye! In the case of sexual relationships, what the Law of Moses, is attempting to do is to regulate the natural polygamous tendencies particularly in men, and invite them to take direct responsibility for the woman they will engage in physical relationship with. However, Jesus, as he does always, invites us to go beyond the mere human basics to something more rational and spiritual. In this way, Jesus invites us to realize the plan of God in us (Mk 10:5-6).

Two dimensions of marriage that are at the heart of the teaching of Jesus are: unity and permanence. Unity: “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Mk 10:7-8), namely, marriage is between a man and a woman. Note that the article, ‘a’ in English indicates ‘one’! Permanence: “what God has united, human beings must not divide” (Mk 10:9). Why are unity and permanence so important in human marriage? Human beings have to just look at their heart. Is it just possible to forget and move on with one’s life after two people have entered into an intimate relationship where everything was shared, at the physical, social, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual levels? Often in the teaching of the Church we refer to “the natural law”. In simple terms, what this means is that that law was revealed. I would like to see the evidence for the revelation of the natural law in the heart of every human person. So also for our understanding of marriage we need to authentically look at the nature of the human heart.

Welcoming Children in the context of Healthy Families

Now let us look at the second part of the gospel reading of today. “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” (Mk 10:14). Jesus goes on to say that we need to welcome the Kingdom of God (reign of God in Jesus) as little children do. It is interesting to note that the themes of marriage and children appear together in the Gospel today. Elsewhere, Jesus would also say, “Anyone who welcomes a little child such as this in my name, welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me, welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (Mk 9:37). So Jesus invites us to welcome the kingdom of God as children do, and he invites us to welcome children also as we would welcome the kingdom of God. What is the best way to welcome children than into the context of healthy family? Why is a healthy family that is ensured by a permanent marriage needed for the wellbeing of children?

Now look at a human baby: totally helpless at the time of birth. The only things that it is capable of doing are to hold someone’s finger and suck the breast. We take an average of eight to twelve months to crawl, to stand on our feet, and eventually to walk and run. Human baby produces its first real words at about 18 months of age. By the end of the second year of life, it is able to communicate with about 50 to 100 words. Consider the years we take for sexual maturity. After all, in most societies today legally someone is an adult only at the age of 18. In other words, until then a human child is vulnerable and dependent.

In brief, given that our brain is not fully developed we are feeble and helpless at the time of our birth. We learn to be human in the company of other human beings. Hence an infant needs to be welcomed among a group of people. Not just any group of people, but the extreme vulnerability of the human baby calls for a group of adult human beings who will, not just look after the baby ad hoc, but support this baby for a prolonged period of time, and unconditionally with a certain commitment – despite its looks, its fussiness, its stubbornness. The support that the child will be offered requires sacrifice, and this is possible only within a structure that we call, ‘family’ that has a relatively prolonged relational structure, and that has some blood-ties. It is the family structure that ensures the survival of humans as individuals and a species. Because of the family’s enduring prevalence, some evolutionists also hypothesize that human survival was greatly aided by qualified monogamy – pair-bonding necessary for the prolonged care of the young children.

We pray that we may let children go to Jesus in our families.

Fr. Franco Pereira, S.D.B.

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