Year B 27th Sunday: Mark 10:02-10

10:02 Some Pharisees approached him and asked,
'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?'
They were putting him to the test.
10:03 He answered them, 'What did Moses command you?'
10:04 They replied, 'Moses allowed us to draw up a writ of dismissal in cases of divorce.'
10:05 Then Jesus said to them,
'It was because you were so hard hearted that he wrote this commandment for you.
10:06 But from the beginning of creation he made them male and female.
10:07 This is why a man leaves his father and mother,
10:08 and the two become one flesh. They are no longer two, therefore, but one flesh.
10:09 So then, what God has united, human beings must not divide.'
10:10 Back in the house the disciples questioned him again about this,
10:11 and he said to them, 'Whoever divorces his wife and marries another
is guilty of adultery against her.
10:12 And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another
she is guilty of adultery too.'

10:13 People were bringing little children to him, for him to touch them.
The disciples scolded them,
10:14 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.
10:15 In truth I tell you,
anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child
will never enter it.'
10:16 Then he embraced them, laid his hands on them and gave them his blessing.

Context and Information

Some moments before this event Jesus taught his disciples to be the least and the last, rather than to be the greatest (9:35).

He had shown them a little child to illustrate his teaching, 'Who receives one of these infants in my name receives me. And who receives me, doesn't receive me, but the one who sent me' (9:36-37).

In Jesus' eyes the little ones are the most precious ones. Why? Because they don't have anything in this world except their hope and their faith. That makes them so precious. And woe to the one who 'scandalises' this hope and this faith. It would be better for such a person to be drowned in the sea with a mill stone around the neck. It is better to enter into heaven with one hand or foot or eye than with both to go into hell (9:42-48)! These are severe words. We are near to the heart of Jesus' spirituality.

At that very moment the Pharisees show up with their question, 'Is it authorised for a man to 'loosen' (literal translation of the Greek word) his wife?' Jesus' answer is clear, 'No man nor a woman has the authority to 'loosen' their partner.'
Mark places the question of the Pharisees immediately after Jesus' severe threatening to those who scandalise the little ones. Does he suggest that the question of the Pharisees is an example of 'scandalising' little ones? For the one who will be sent away will be the 'loser', the little one, even if they receive a 'booklet of distance'. Relations are not meant to be 'loosened'.

That is the case for the relation between man and wife, but also between Jesus and Jerusalem, between God and his people.

Picture Meditation

We are looking at a recent wall painting (2005?) in the monastery of Horaita, Romania. It is an illustration of the moment when Jesus says to his disciples, 'Let the little children come to me; do not stop them.' The six children (the same number as Jesus and his disciples) are to be seen in the centre of the picture. They are clothed in white garments, the colour of innocence. The last one holds tight the garment of his mother.

Behind Jesus we see five apostles who try to stop the women and their children. Three of the disciples are looking at the women in front of them, two others are looking at each other. None of the disciples is looking at Jesus. The children, they are looking at Jesus. As do the women.

At the same time this picture could be understood to be an illustration of the struggle between men and women (in the church?); or as an illustration of those who want to keep 'their' Jesus for themselves and don't allow others to bring their lives to the Lord.

Am I to be found somewhere in this picture? Do I recognise myself in one of the disciples? In one of the women (even if I would be a man)? Or in one of the children? Or perhaps in Jesus?

by Fr Dries van den Akker SJ

St Mark's Gospel Reflections