This morning’s Gospel reading is Mark 10:2–16:
The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” They were testing him. He said to them in reply, “What did Moses command you?” They replied, “Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.” But Jesus told them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” In the house the disciples again questioned Jesus about this. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. 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. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.
In the eyes of a child, you will see … — Moody Blues
Every year, we take our granddaughters out to a pumpkin patch not too far outside of town to celebrate Halloween. Yesterday was this year’s visit, on a gray and chilly day that was almost perfect for running around and playing. This tradition began thirteen years ago with our oldest granddaughter when she was just four years old as a way to get outside and be active with her, and it’s been a staple ever since. We added the younger granddaughter when she was just a little under two years old. Occasionally they bring friends with them, and sometimes it’s just the four of us.
The pumpkin patch we visit is hardly a Disneyland, but it does have a number of activities, and they add something each year. This year, it was a mechanical bull and an addition to their petting zoo, plus the same favorites that our granddaughters enjoy each year. At some point they’ll be too old or too busy to have an interest in it, but so far the oldest one still enjoys it — and we love watching them enjoy it, too.
So what is it about this humble activity that draws us to it each year, practically dictating our October plans? Besides the opportunity to spend time with our granddaughters, who are growing old enough to have other plans, I think today’s Gospel offers some insight into that question. If we were to go to the pumpkin patch by ourselves, we’d have a hard time keeping interest in it. What we love about this activity and others like it is to recall what it is to see things through the eyes of a child — the joy of discovery and rediscovery, as well as the total commitment to the present experience.
For instance, on our very first pumpkin patch trip, I took the oldest on a walk through the woods dubbed “The Spooky Trail.” There were a few Halloween decorations up along the trail, but it wasn’t scary or forbidding. For me, it was a pleasant walk in the trees with my four-year-old granddaughter. However, she totally bought into it, saying “Ooh, this is spooky! This is spooky!” all the way through it. (Oddly enough, twelve years later, she recalled it on our trip yesterday; it stuck with her.)
This is how we must come to Christ as well — with total commitment to the present and with joy in that experience. That is what we miss as we grow older in a fallen world. Joy fades, replaced by indifference or cynicism. The simple beauties and wonders of the world lose their attraction, and we forget how they made us feel before we acquired the bruises and scars that come from life. We lose sight of the moment as we fret about what is to come. The disciples have this same issue when they try to keep the children from approaching Jesus, worrying that the disruption would interfere with His mission.
In Wednesday’s Gospel from Luke 9:57-62, we get a similar message from Jesus in response to two would-be followers. One wants to go back and bury his father; the other wants to check in with his family. Jesus responds, ““No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God.” This is how Christ calls us to Him — in that same sense of wonder and trust, with that same level of total commitment that children so easily give to joy, and that as adults we find so difficult to accomplish.
But we don’t really lose that sense of wonder and joy; we just bury it under the cares and toil of our lives. We get a glimpse of it, a few moments of recognition, with our children and grandchildren when they experience it. If we’re lucky, we don’t just experience that vicariously but get to actively participate in it. We can embrace it rather than just observe it or analyze it. If we allow ourselves to put aside our cares, hurts, and scars and trust in joy, we can get in touch with that sense of wonder, too.
That is the promise of salvation, of eternal life with the Lord. We can find true peace from our cares and true joy with God and all of those we love, but we must put our trust in Him fully and completely. We don’t need to supervise, analyze, or criticize; we must decide to leave all those defense mechanisms aside, the products of a lifetime of disappointments and hurts, to fully embrace Christ in the moment every moment.
Our children and grandchildren learn much from us. We have an opportunity to learn from them as well. In the meantime … see you at the pumpkin cannon.
The front page image is “Christ Blessing the Children,” Nicolas Maes, c 1653. Currently on display at the National Gallery, London, UK. Via WikiArt.
“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here. For previous Green Room entries, click here.