October 4, 2015 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause
October 4, 2015
Fr. George Smiga
Jewish rabbis often begin their interpretation of the scriptures with a question. I would like to borrow their method to understand today’s gospel. Here is the question I would pose: Why does today’s gospel have two scenes? There is a first scene in which Jesus discusses with the Pharisees the issues of marriage and divorce, and it is followed by another scene in which Jesus blesses children. At first, these scenes do not seem to have much to do with one another. But I would like to suggest an approach that makes them work together.
Jesus held a very high view of marriage. Other rabbis would permit divorce under certain circumstances, but Jesus did not. To him, the commitment made by two people for a lifelong relationship of love reflected God’s intention from the beginning of creation: The two were to become one flesh. This is a high and noble ideal. I am sure that many of you here today who are living marriage would be quick to add: It might be a high ideal, but it is often not very pretty. Every marriage includes misunderstandings, arguments, mistakes, and hurts. Marriage is a high road, but it is often a rough road. Despite all its blessings, marriage requires communication, patience, and sacrifice. In light of this, Jesus asserts that the married life is worth living, that it is a holy union reflecting the very love of God. In the first scene of today’s gospel Jesus calls those who enter into the marriage life to persevere in a lifelong and faithful union.
What about the second scene when Jesus blesses the children? Children in this scene do not represent innocence or purity. Children in the ancient world were the marginalized, the broken, the fragile who had to depend on others for survival. When Jesus blesses and welcomes the children, Jesus is blessing and welcoming the weak and the broken. Once we understand this, we can also understand how the two scenes in today’s gospel work together. The first presents a high ideal. The second recognizes a hard reality. The first lays out a lifelong commitment of love. The second shows us how God reacts when we are unable to live that ideal. I have dealt with hundreds of people going through divorce. I do not know of one who ended a marriage in a position of strength. They were all broken, their dreams dashed, their future uncertain. In their brokenness, they become the children who Jesus welcomes.
Jesus is not afraid to challenge us to a high ideal, to call us to a lifelong commitment of love. But when a marriage fails because of infidelity or abuse, because of incompatibility or the lack of love, Jesus is the first to reach out and welcome those who are broken.
We are called to follow Jesus’ example. We should not be afraid to hold up marriage as a valued and holy state, both in our families and in our society. But when a marriage fails, we should be the first to welcome a divorced parent, child, brother, or sister. Others may judge them. Others might try to keep them away. But we should echo the words of Jesus and say: Let them come to me. Do not prevent them, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.