October 4, 2015
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 The Pharisees approached [Jesus] and asked, "Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?" They were testing him. 3 He said to them in reply, "What did Moses command you?" 4 They replied, "Moses permitted him to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her." 5 But Jesus told them, "Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.
7 For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother (and be joined to his wife), 8 and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate."
10 In the house the disciples again questioned him about this. 11 He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."
13 And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 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. 15 Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it." 16 Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.
Last Sunday the gospel text ended with Jesus’ exhortation to get rid of those areas that lead one to sin. The gospel for this week almost directly follows last Sunday’s text. In between are the following three verses. “Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if salt becomes insipid, with what will you restore its flavor? Keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another. He set out from there and went into the district of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds gathered around him and, as was his custom, he again taught them.” (Mark 9:49-10:1)
Mark’s community would have recognized that Jesus is in the location that was governed by Herod, the one who had John the Baptist imprisoned and beheaded for speaking out against Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife. They would also recognize that the Pharisees’ question regarding divorce is not a simple request to hear Jesus’ teaching on the matter, but an attempt to diminish Jesus’ status and increase their own.
The question and Jesus’ response focus on the disparity between what is permitted and the ideal that God intends. Jesus states that God’s intent from the beginning of creation is that husband and wife should be one. What God brings together as one is incapable of being divided. What Moses permitted was quite different.
In verses 10-12 Jesus continues his reflection with his disciples, away from the crowd and the Pharisees. Here he raises the possibility for a woman to divorce her husband, at least in theory. This would have been quite shocking for his disciples, because the Jewish culture would not have considered this a possibility. Women were more like property, and had value because of their reproductive potential. Marriages were arranged by families to bring two families together. The ones to be married did not have a choice in the matter. If a husband divorced his wife, shame was cast on the men of her family. These male relatives were expected to make the situation right even if that meant bloodshed. If a couple was found to be in an adulterous relationship, the husband of the woman was shamed. A woman did not have enough status in this culture to be shamed. This male-dominated way of thinking could not conceive of adultery by a husband as a sin against his wife. Jesus’ teaching in verse 11 would be a totally new perspective for the Jewish community.
However, Roman law at the time did allow for a woman to divorce her husband. That this Roman perspective was being incorporated by Jesus himself, or by Mark as he reflects back on the teaching of Jesus, would have been difficult to accept for those who struggled to maintain the purity of their traditions. They would see any Roman influence as representative of their oppressors standing between them and their rightful position as God’s chosen people.
The text offers no insight as to why the disciples prevented the children from coming to Jesus. Instead the text says only that Jesus was upset with the disciples’ behavior. Nor does Mark tell us how it is that one should be like a child. It would be helpful to remember that in that time, children, like women, had no rights or esteem in themselves. Without an explanation or the context for Jesus’ behavior, the apparent intent is to show who Jesus saw value in. Jesus is treating those who had no status, in society or in the religious tradition of the day, as having value and importance in the eyes of God.
1. Among the people you know, what are some of the reasons people marry?
2. Have you heard people equating what is legal within church law/practice with what is morally right?
3. Who are the people in your community whose status does not give them the same protection as the prominent members of the community?
4. Are there places in your life where you know you yourself are not living up to the ideals God is calling you to?
5. In the first section of the gospel text, Jesus says that God has brought together a wife and her husband and they are now one. Would there be other examples of things God has brought together as one?
6. Jesus seems to have deliberately traveled into the area where his cousin John was killed by Herod and is confronted by the same issue. Are there areas, either geographical or emotional, that you avoid because of past experiences? Does Jesus’ action in the gospel text speak to you?
7. Do you find yourself grateful for those who teach us and show us the ideals God desires for us, even if living it fully would be impossible for most of us?
8. What part of this gospel text is most meaningful for you? Do you find it meaningful because it offers comfort, because it challenges, or for some other reason?
Reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel. To be added to the distribution list send your name and email address to email@example.com
A Spanish translation of the reflection questions is made possible by Fernando Alessandrini. If you wish to receive the Spanish translation, please contact Fernando at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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