The main part of next Sunday’s Gospel passage takes the form of a controversy story in which Pharisees, with hostile intent, seek to bring Jesus into conflict with what they regarded as the clear teaching of Scripture. The Pharisees pose their question to Jesus: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife”? When Jesus asks them what Moses said on this matter, they refer to the book of Deuteronomy. Thus, Jesus unveils their hostility, since it becomes obvious that they already knew the “biblical answer” to the question.
Jesus’ radical teaching on marriage and divorce must be understood in the context of first century Palestine (read John Pilch’s reflection included in the Liturgy of the Word linked below). The world of Jesus was very much a patriarchal society. It is important to recognize that in this debate patriarchal family life and structures were taken for granted; there was no/is no concern for what we today call psychological (in)compatibility, and that marriage is not yet being understood in sacramental terms. Thus, Jesus’ teaching on this subject must be placed in the larger context of his proclamation about God’s kingdom and the radical demands it may make on people. It is equally important to remember that the Church that follows Jesus’s prophetic mandate must also incorporate his pastoral sensitivity.
It is fitting that a passage about children follows one about marriage since women and children were especially vulnerable in this society. The scene described stands out for its beauty and simplicity. In one of the few passages about children in the New Testament, the focus here is on the dependence of children and the fact that they necessarily receive everything as a gift. It shows Jesus’ positive concern for children. He takes them seriously as human persons, calls attention to the wisdom they display in regarding everything as a gift, and seals his genuine affection for them with an embrace and a blessing.
For everyone, the kingdom of God is pure gift on God’s part, and it must be received as such.
Receive the gift of his word!
Click here for the Liturgy of the Word: