Gospel Lectio Divina for 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Oct. 3, 2021
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.
"Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?"
Christ did say he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it, but in asking this question about the law we can see--once again and as usual--the Pharisees’ hearts are in the wrong place. They are making even marriage about simply the law. Perhaps you know a marriage where either the wife or the husband is just concerned about doing the right thing. Perhaps you are pining to point out to them how the marriage lacks love. In that sense, the Pharisees’ question does provide a decent analogy. While the Pharisees are concerned about the law, Jesus is concerned about the heart. If our heart is in the right place, the law will follow. If we put God’s law in its right place, we will follow it out of love.
“Because of the hardness of your hearts”
Jesus tells us numerous times that a relationship with him is all about the heart, not the law. It’s not that the law does not matter, but keeping the law follows true love for him, and that love comes from the heart. If the Pharisees understood this, and understood why Moses had to allow for divorce, they would not have questioned the law. They would have known that God did not want to allow for divorce, but our fallen state made it inevitable. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). It is the hardness of our hearts that makes us think we know a better way.
And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them.
This verse reflects the passage in the First Reading from Numbers from last week. When two men, Eldad and Medad, started prophesying outside the camp, “a young man quickly told Moses,” and “Joshua, who from his youth had been Moses’ aide, said, ‘Moses, my lord, stop them.’ But Moses answered him, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!"
Jesus’ words from last Sunday in turn reflect Moses’ words in Numbers. When people tried to cast out demons in Jesus’ name, his disciples tried to stop them. Jesus then said, “There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me” (Mark 9:39). The connection between all of these passages is the lesson that God doesn’t like it when we make his power exclusive. Anyone who calls upon his name can invoke God’s power because it’s not about them. It’s about showing people God’s glory. As long as that is what they are looking to do, and not to bring glory or recognition to themselves, God has no problem with it. For a similar reason, magic can be dangerous. In many cases, magic can be used as a way to bolster one’s own false sense of power. This is not only a form of mockery toward God, who alone possesses the power to manipulate natural law as magic often does. It also can easily conjure up false pride in the individual who performs the magic, making them think they have a power they do not actually have. So this lesson about God’s ability and encouraging people not to curtail it may seem like a subtle lesson that has less of a connection to our own lives than many of Jesus’ more popular lessons. But it is in fact very relevant. People were bringing children to Jesus so they may receive a special blessing from him. The disciples felt that such a blessing needed to be reserved for only those whom Jesus singled out. But God does not want to limit the demonstration of his power. That is why he made it so easy to be baptized and received into his family. Anyone can baptize another as long as it is done with water and in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus is foreshadowing that sacrament here, because in baptism we become children of God.
“Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
The teaching about divorce and the story about children are connected, because the natural fruit of marriage is children. If marriage goes as God plans, there will be children. Mark is trying to share with us the beauty of God’s plan. While man may have other plans in mind, Christ shows us how God’s plan is to bring children into the world, because it is through children that we can more easily see the kingdom of God. Last week, Jesus warned us about how detrimental it is for someone to mislead a child, saying, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42). This week, he is telling us of the glory and wonder in children, putting a bookend to the lesson. In other words, it is so bad to mislead children because they are such a direct link to heaven for us, especially when they are properly led. When we mislead them we sever that link.
whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it
Whoever does not see the world as a playground created by God for us to teach us about heaven will not be able to enter heaven. That makes sense to me. Whoever does not see this life as preparation for the afterlife will not be able to see God in the afterlife. Whoever doesn’t get it won’t get heaven. It’s not some cruel trick God is playing on us. He is not saying if we don’t grow up we won’t be able to enter heaven. We just have to make sure we don’t grow up in the wrong ways. Never stop learning, never get rid of your sense of wonder at the world. Never stop searching curiously for the truth. These are traits of a child. By keeping them up through our adulthood, we stay young longer and that’s what God wants. He wants us to begin experiencing heaven on earth, just like a child sees a new world of imagination around every corner.
Thank you for the beauty and simplicity of the Gospel message. Teach us to be more like children and to keep your commandments because we love you, not simply because we just want to do what’s right. Never let us mislead young ones, but help us to lead them to you so you may touch them. You are our father and God of all. We praise you and wait for the coming of your glorious kingdom. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
So often we think we know the answers. We think we are doing good for God, but later notice that he was asking something different. This is what the disciples learned when Jesus told them to let the children come to him. Is there an area in my life where perhaps I think I’m doing the right thing, but maybe if I listened to God more closely I would notice that he was telling me to do the opposite? It’s in times like these when I need to listen to God more closely, because I may be missing an opportunity where God wants to let his grace flow more freely.
Kilby is a freelance writer from New Jersey and managing editor of Catholic World Report.