Day 137 – Marriage, Divorce, and the Faith of Children

Today’s reading: Mk 10:1-31

There are many great things to address today.

First, is Jesus teaching on divorce and remarriage.  Jesus states that God’s original plan for marriage was one man and one woman and that divorce was allowed as a temporary exception.  Here is the passage:

And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.   Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.

By recalling the original intent and concluding “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate”, Jesus is re-establishing lifelong indissoluble marriage as the norm.

This is also an important teaching because Jesus (and Paul) will compare Jesus relationship to the Church as that of a bride and groom.  In discussing marriage Jesus has raised this relationship to the highest level.  He has made it an indissoluble lifelong commitment and then he says his relationship with his Church is the same.  While a human man and woman might have to work tirelessly at this type of relationship Jesus, of course, will be forever faithful to his bride.  The bible says, “husband’s love your wives as Jesus loved the Church” Ephesians 5:25  How did Jesus love the Church?  Completely!  He gave himself up for her (Id.).  He gave every last drop of his blood to found her.  Thus, Jesus relationship to the Church is indissoluble.

Often the question is raised regarding Matthew’s version of this passage that seems to allow for an exception.  Here is the passage:

And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

The original word used for “sexual immorality” was “porneia”.  This word has a broad and imprecise meaning.  It refers to “illicit sexual intercourse” in general as opposed to “adultery” in particular.  The context is therefore key.  Since the Old Testament prohibited certain marriages between close relatives and since Jesus is warning that remarriage is akin to adultery the passage has traditionally been interpreted as allowing for divorce only when the marriage itself has been found to be illicit from the outset.

Next, Jesus teaches us this important lesson.

Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.

How does one receive the kingdom of God like a child?  This is an interesting and happy question to contemplate.  Children are trusting of their parents; they accept what is explained to them out of love.  But that doesn’t mean they are not questioning!  They ask many questions but their questions come from an honest place, from a desire to learn, understand and become more like their parents.  Often their questions push their parents to understand the world better so they can explain it in a simple and straightforward way.  Children are also under their parents’ authority!  This authority does not stifle them, it doesn’t harm them, it doesn’t limit them.  The authority of the parent directs the child’s growth; it keeps them safe from harmful things until they are ready to deal with them.  And Children are joyful; they are not weighted down by the worries of the world because they know their parent will take care of them as our Father in heaven will take care of us.  Children are giving and kind, they share.  They share their hearts and minds, their thought and feelings, they share their love and time and (usually) they share their stuff.

Next, in today’s reading, a man asks Jesus directly about how to obtain eternal life.

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother. ‘” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

First, notice that the man ask what must he DO to obtain eternal life.  Jesus’ answer is not one with any version of “faith alone”.  Rather, Jesus tells him he must live by following the commandments.  This does not in any way negate the man’s faith.  No doubt he had faith to desire to live by following the commandments and to have successfully done so up until this point.  No doubt he has faith to desire to ask Jesus what else he must do to obtain eternal life.  Jesus, of course, knows he has faith.  Jesus doesn’t question his faith.  Jesus does tell him one more thing he must do.  This is Jesus showing us that our faith and how we live our lives (our works) are inextricably bound up together.  We cannot have one without the other.  We cannot claim to be people of faith and live rotten lives.  Jesus challenges him to give up his possession and follow God but the man cannot.  His worldly wealth is too important to him.   It has become an idol, a false God and he lacks the trust in God of a child for the parent.

Finally, Jesus talks about how one can get to heaven.

But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

The context here is again important.  In the ancient Jewish mindset material wealth had always been considered a sign of God’s favor.  Indeed, many passages in the Old Testament suggest as much.  Here, Jesus is upsetting that paradigm.  Notice it says that the Apostles were “exceedingly astonished” by Jesus’ statement.  The Apostles genuinely don’t know what to make of this statement.  If earthly station is not a measure of who will get to heaven then how can anyone get there?  Jesus’ answer is the essence of Christianity; one only gets to heaven by the grace of God.  It is he who makes all things possible.  Coming full circle, this explains Jesus statement at the beginning of this exchange, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”  It is not that Jesus isn’t good (for He is God) but that God is the source of all goodness.  It is because of Him and through Him and with Him that we are able to do anything of value.

Jesus confirms this in the final exchange.  The Apostles, who have responded to God’s gift of grace and given up everything to follow Jesus will be rewarded in heaven:

Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

The Apostles indeed have made themselves last.  They will be the servants of the poorest of the poor and will give up their lives for God.  Thus, they will sit at the highest place in heaven.

Tomorrow: Mk 10:32-52

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