Summary: We need to bring people to Jesus by being a Christ-like friend, by sharing what it means to follow Jesus, and by carrying thanks to Jesus in prayer. In the scene of children in the arms of a loving Jesus, there is a story to be told, lessons to be learned
At first glance, this morning’s Gospel reading seems a little disjointed. It starts with a discussion about divorce and ends with a discussion about entering God’s kingdom like little children. While they seem to be disconnected, they really are connected. Let me try to explain.
Mark’s Gospel was the first of the four major gospels to be written. In fact, if you compare the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, you will find that they are very similar. John’s Gospel is different for reasons that I won’t get into this morning. Mark’s Gospel was not intended to be a daily diary of Jesus’ activities. Rather, it was intended to teach us about how we are to live our lives as Christians. In order to do this, Mark often puts two or more stories that are seemingly different side-by-side because of the deeper connection between them.
Such is the case with this morning’s Gospel reading. Jesus is trying to tell us that we are to show concern for the less fortunate in society. In Jesus’ time, women and children were among the least fortunate in society. They had very few rights. In fact, women were seen as the property of their husbands. A man could divorce his wife for seemingly petty reasons such as burning the meat, not keeping the home clean or getting older. All he had to do under the Law of Moses was to write a bill of divorce, give it to the woman and send her on her way. It is no wonder that prostitution is mentioned so many times in the Bible. It was the only way a divorced woman in that society could support herself and her children, especially if she did not have any other male relatives who could support her.
Society is the same today. There are many divorced women who are working to support themselves and their children without the support of their ex-husbands. Marriage is often seen today as nothing more than a social contract, but God sees marriage as a sacrament uniting a man with a woman. Society and some churches are trying to change their interpretation of God’s plan. One only has to look at the current debate within the Anglican Church of Canada regarding performing same-sex marriages to see an example.
While God’s plan is that marriages last until death, God also realizes that divorce is a reality because of our frail, sinful, human nature. That is why Moses allowed divorce, but he made it as difficult as possible. You see, the bill of divorce had to be written. Since many people at that time were illiterate, the process was a long and difficult one. God also realizes that there are situations where divorce is necessary, such as in the case of abuse. While every possible effort should be made to save marriages, we as Christians MUST also work with those who have been hurt by the pain of divorce to show them that God loves them and shares their pain.
Divorce does not just affect the spouses. It also affects their parents, siblings, friends, co-workers and most importantly their children. I know, because the pain of divorce and separation has affected a member of my family. I have seen how the particular situation has affected the children that are involved. All children are vulnerable, but the children of divorce can be even more vulnerable. Marriage was not intended to be ended by man, just like we can’t separate ourselves from the love of God. Our relationship with God is like a marriage, and just like every marriage, it requires work on our part; namely, faith and commitment.
Jesus knew that people suffer in divorce, so it is no accident that Mark follows Jesus’ debate with the Pharisees with Jesus calling the little children to him. We can see Jesus put his arms around the whole human race and condition. He does realize that divorce is sometimes necessary because of our human weakness. To the divorced, as to every person who is hurting, He offers insight, help, healing and forgiveness.
Jesus has a special fondness for the vulnerable members of society. That is why he had the debate with the Pharisees in the first part of this morning’s Gospel reading. One of God’s intentions for marriage is protection of the vulnerable-namely, women and children-from divorce caused by any reason. Jesus placed women, children and all vulnerable people on an equal footing with the rest of society. By doing so, he showed them that God’s love and God’s kingdom are for everyone. All we have to do is believe in Jesus and accept him in faith.
So how do we accept Jesus in faith? We do so by coming to Jesus like a child. Let me explain this by taking you on a short walk down memory lane. Some of you may have heard of a singer/songwriter named Ray Stevens. He is famous for writing and recording comedy songs such as "Bridget the Midget", "Ahab the Arab", "The Streak", “Osama, Yo’ Mama”, and many others. He did record a few serious songs, the most famous of which was "Everything is Beautiful". That particular song starts with some children who are singing words that tie in nicely with the topic of my homily today. The verse goes something like this: