My Dear Parishioners:
According to Genesis chapter 2, God created man from the earth and God created woman from the side of man. This account has often been misinterpreted to suggest the subordination of woman to man. The translation ‘helpmate’ is not an accurate translation of the Hebrew word. Something like ‘indispensable partner’ would be better. The text suggests that the woman is to stand alongside the man as his equal. She corresponds to him exactly, as the man affirms, ‘bone of my bones,’ ‘flesh of my flesh.’ Whereas the man names the animals, suggesting a certain authority over them, he does not name the woman. The primary relationship between the man and the woman is adult human to adult human. The text proclaims that from the beginning God intended men and women to relate to one another with mutuality and partnership. According to our first reading that relationship of mutuality and partnership between a man and a woman finds its fullest expression in marriage, a ‘man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to his wife, and they become one body.’
In this morning’s gospel, Jesus turns to this text from the Book of Genesis when he is put on the spot by some Pharisees regarding the question of divorce. As the Pharisees would have known, the Jewish Law permitted a form of divorce. According to the Book of Deuteronomy, a man who becomes displeased with his wife because he finds in her something objectionable could write her a bill of divorce, hand it to her and dismiss her from his house. There was no provision in Jewish law for a woman to divorce her husband. It was a law which left women vulnerable. In reply to the Pharisees Jesus declares that what the law allows is not what actually what God wills. God’s purpose for marriage, according to Jesus, is to be found in those opening chapters of the book of Genesis. Whereas the Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce, in his reply Jesus places the focus on marriage. His vision of marriage is of a profound union between a man and a woman, a communion of faithful love. It is no coincidence that immediately after the passage in which Jesus speaks of marriage, Mark in his gospel gives us a story about children, about parents bringing children to Jesus for him to bless them. Marriage between a man and a woman is a tried and tested way in which children can grow up to be loved, as well as being given stability and security. No other setting has been proven better for the nourishing and flourishing of children. If society cares about children, it will channel financial and professional resources into supporting marriage, understood as a communion of faithful love, the fullest expression in human form of the communion of love between the Lord and ourselves.
We know from our own experience that that not all marriages reflect the ideal that Jesus places before us in today’s gospel. Many of us will have relatives whose marriages have not lasted. The gospels are clear that although Jesus presented a certain vision for human relationships, including within marriage, he did not condemn those who fell short of that vision. All of us, married or single, are called to love one another as the Lord has loved us, and we all fail in our response to that call. It is in those moments of weakness and failure that the second part of this morning’s gospel has most to say to us, ‘anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will not enter it.’ We stand before the Lord with a child-like heart, in our weakness and vulnerability, open and receptive to the great gift of the Lord’s love that is given to us unconditionally. It is that gift which empowers us to keep reaching towards the goal, the ideal, which Jesus puts before us all.