“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.
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.
Not long ago, I had a conversation with a couple in their early thirties, who noted that they’d been getting a lot of wedding invitations of late. They have already been married for quite some time and have children, and one of the invitations excluded them. Although it seems less common than it used to be to do this, it still made me wonder about it as it always has, although this couple did not seem put off by it.
Having been a grandfather for some time now, I’m very aware of the disruptive nature of children, even of my own (nearly) perfect granddaughters. They get cranky, noisy, over-energized, demanding, bored, and generally distracting on some level. There are places and events where their presence would be inappropriate for those reasons, and others. But weddings are not just expensive parties for the betrothed, but celebrations of the family, especially the unions of previously unrelated families into a larger body of love. For Christians, this is especially so, given our understanding of the Trinitarian relationship and our eventual role within it.
In the beginning, as we are reminded in our first reading from Genesis today, human beings were created in God’s image and gifted with His creative power through marriage. In fact, Jesus quotes this passage in his reply to the Pharisees. In the end, we will participate in the Trinitarian life at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, when the Church becomes the bride of Christ. In between, the marriage model still remains the symbol of God’s relationship with His people.
The same arc can be seen in Jesus’ ministry. He begins it with the miracle at the wedding feast of Cana, preventing the family from social disgrace by supplying them with sufficient wine for the celebration, and lifts up the couple through His grace. He comes to Jerusalem in one sense as a bridegroom to the Temple. He ascends after the Resurrection, promising an eternal union with His disciples and friends, and sends the Holy Spirit to multiply the Church.
That is why it is telling that the very next scene after Jesus’ definition of marriage — and also in Matthew 19, which parallels this Scripture — is the children coming to Jesus. The disciples rebuke people who bring children to Jesus, but he says, “do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to them.” To deny children is to turn one’s back on the gift of creative power granted to them by the Lord. Children are our destiny, and the Lord’s gift to us, and denying them to the Lord is a rejection of Him.
In my childhood, at least as best as I recall, we all attended weddings and other family events, no matter what our age. Again, as best as I recall, I may not have always been a fan of that policy when I was a child. We had to get dressed up, behave ourselves, and generally not act like normal for several hours at a stretch while the adults got to enjoy themselves. At some point, a relative would make you dance, or would at least try, to their amusement and my own embarrassment. The best solution for that was to find one’s cousins — and I had a lot of them, on both sides of the family — and find ways to have fun while remaining out of reach of the adults for as long as possible.
Even with that, though, we were part of the celebration, because we were part of the family. For the last few decades, it seems that we have lost sight of the meaning of marriage while obsessing over the trappings of weddings, and that may not be limited to just the wedding day.
In these passages, and others in which Jesus rebukes the idea of divorce (Luke 16:18, Matthew 5:31-32), He stresses the point that the family is the paramount relationship for human beings. It should be indissoluble, just as God’s covenant with humanity remains indissoluble, and for the same reason. It is a familial relationship. Jesus teaches us to call God “Father” for a reason, so that we may understand our place in the Trinitarian life. We are called to share in the Lord’s family life, embraced as His children at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb at the end of days. That caritas love and acceptance cannot be withdrawn; divorce will not take place between God and His people. And all children will come to Him, because we are all children in the Lord’s eyes.
Marriage, therefore, becomes our model for our future in His kingdom. We are called to form ourselves throughout our lives to live as His children by our family lives, including weddings and married life as well. Welcoming children becomes a large part of that formation. They may be noisy, cranky, disruptive, and self-centered, but … how exactly is that different from how we must appear to God Himself, even while He welcomes us to His banquet?
Let the children come to Him — at the weddings, in the marriages, and in all aspects. We have been given a great gift of creation, and an awesome responsibility for formation from it. Let our family models serve that purpose, and let us embrace family life in its totality. Just don’t make me dance.
The front page image is “The Wedding at Cana” by Paolo Veronese, 1563, now at the Louvre.