Gospel: Mark 10:2-12

For the Good of the Family

How has the family suffered in society? What challenges do modern families face these days?

These days, families come in different sizes and shapes. Traditional families, single-parent families, blended families, multi-generational parenting. Adoption and artificial means of conception have opened the doors to parenting for classes of people who could not (or would not) create a family in previous generations.

Unlike the size, shape, and nature of a modern family, two traditional factors always have and always will affect the family: the stable lifestyle of the parents and the good of the children. Jesus had definite opinions about both.

Popular Translation

2 The Pharisees came to test Jesus with a question, "Does God's Law allow a man to divorce his wife?"

3 "What command did Moses give you about divorce?" Jesus answered.

4 "Moses said a man could divorce his wife," the Pharisees said.

5 "Moses wrote this command because you have such hard hearts." Jesus said. 6 "When he began to create everything, God made humans male and female. 7 Because he made people this way, a man will leave his parents, marry his wife, and they live together as one. 8 They no longer live as two people but as one. 9 So, people should not separate the union God put together!"

10 At home, his followers asked Jesus about what he said. 11 "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman, cheats on his first wife," Jesus replied. 12 "And, if the woman divorces her husband and should marry again, she cheats on her first husband."

13 People brought their small children to Jesus so he could bless them. But his followers told them to go away. 14 When Jesus saw what happened, he got angry. "Don't stop the children!" Jesus shouted. "Let them come here! Those who are like children belong to God's Kingdom. 15 Listen! Whoever does not accept God's Kingdom like a child will never enter it!" 16 Then Jesus hugged, blessed, and placed his hands on each child there.

Mark presented two situations that challenged Jesus: the question of divorce and social attitudes toward children. He approached both subjects with the same view: what was best for the people involved.

Literal Translation

2 Having come, the Pharisees were asking HIM, testing HIM, "Is it permitted (in the Law) for a man to dismiss a woman (in divorce)?" 3 But, having answered them, HE said, "What command did Moses give to you?" 4 They said, "Moses allowed (one) to write a document to send (his marriage) aside and to dismiss (his wife)." 5 JESUS said to them, "He wrote this command for you because of your hard heart. 6 From the beginning of creation, "God made them male and female. 7 'Because of this, a man will leave behind his father and mother, [he will be joined to his woman], 8 and the two will become one flesh.' So, they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 So, that (union) which God yoked together, let not man separate." 10 At home again, the disciples were asking HIM about this (teaching). 11 HE said to them, "Whoever dismisses his woman and marries another commits adultery against (the first wife); 12 and if she, having (divorced) her man might marry another, commits adultery."

10:2 "testing him" is actually at the end of the sentence. Unlike English, placement of the participial phrase in not critical, since the endings in Greek would connect the phrase to the subject (the Pharisees). Mark placed the phrase after the question to indicate the dubious intent of the subjects.

10:4 "(one) to write a document to send (his marriage) aside and to dismiss (his wife)." Mosaic Law allowed a man to write a divorce document in the presence of witnesses. Then the man would present it to his wife, with the words: "Here is your bill of divorce."

10:5 "your hard heart" Jesus inferred that Moses allowed divorce because the Israelites were too obstinate to accept his will.

10:7 "he will be shall be joined to his woman." The verb "will be joined to" is literally, "will be glued to." Jesus indicated God's command, like all his other commands, had a permanent status. The phrase itself has brackets, indicating scholars dispute whether it was original or not.

10:7-8 See Genesis 2:24.

10:8 "the two will become one flesh.' So, they are no longer two but one flesh." Jesus used the phrase "unity of flesh" twice, once from Genesis 2:24, once for emphasis. The union of flesh did not refer sexual union, per se, but to the union of the wife to the husband's family. Through the marriage, the husband's wife now had a rightful place in her mate's clan. The writer of Genesis clearly saw the wife had a necessary and vital role in society, for marriage created and strengthened clans, the bedrock of ancient society. Jesus saw divorce not only as an injustice to the woman (who would be thrown out of the clan to live a homeless existence). He saw divorce as a danger to society itself. Since Jews believed the structure of society was divinely ordained, Jesus saw divorce was sin against society, almost capital in nature. Jesus' conclusion (in 10:9) reflected that belief.

10:9 "that (union) which God yoked together" The phrase "yoked together" was used in the context of marriage. Since God yoked the man and woman together, Jesus saw marriage as God's will, not man's.

At the time of Jesus there were two opinions about divorce. One opinion stated a man was free to divorce at any time and for any reason, while the other opinion stated marriage could not be dissolved.

Again, the Pharisees came to trick Jesus with a question on the Law [2]. Jesus answered a question with a question on the source of divorce from Moses, the lawgiver [3]. When the Pharisees answered, Jesus appealed to an early (and purer) reason: the point of creation! [7-9] God's original intention was for lifelong monogamy.

Why did Jesus oppose divorce, besides theological reasons? Verses 10-16 give us a clue: the effects divorce had on families, especially children. In the time of Jesus, divorced women many times ended up homeless and their children became orphans. If the divorced woman and children returned to her extended family, the family was shamed and the woman was considered a failure.

Why did Jesus consider remarriage as "adultery" [10-12]? Many times, adultery was used as a social weapon against a married man or family; adultery caused scandal and shame. Remarriage could have the same result, especially if a man divorced his wife to marry for lust or social status. Such reasons did not coincide with God's original purpose; hence they were sinful (i.e., "adulterous.").

13 (People) were bringing HIM small children that HE might touch them. But the disciples rebuked (the people). 14 Having seen (this happen), JESUS was angry, and said to them, "Permit the small children to come to ME. Do not hinder them. For, one like this belongs to the Kingdom of God 15 Amen, I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a small child will not, by no means, enter it." 16 Having embraced them, HE blessed (the children), setting his hands on them.

10:13 "small children" could mean anyone from infancy to age 12.

"he might touch them" the people wanted Jesus to bless their children.

10:15 "Amen, I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a small child will not, by no means, enter it." Jesus made an emphatic statement in two ways. First he used the formula "Amen, I say to you." Second, he used a double negative for the main verb (translated as "will not, by no means"). Jesus' point was clear. Those who entered the Kingdom must have the status of a child, that of a slave. Any reference to childlike qualities (like innocence, trust, love, etc.) would be secondary in importance.

The scene ends with Jesus blessing the children. We discussed the status of children and the leadership of the Church several Sundays ago. But it is well worth noting that parenthood is a call to service, like leadership in the Church. Parents are to be last; personal interests of the mother or father give way to the good of the family. Children are to be blessed [16] not rebuked [13].

Catechism Theme: Divorce (CCC 2382-2386)

Marriage is the gift of self to another. Out of the self-giving comes life, the life of a child and the life of a family. Anything that disrupts that life and its human source challenges everyone involved.

In many societies (especially in America), divorce is a common occurrence. While divorce may not have the social stigma attached to it as in former generations, the legal dissolution of a marriage still carries serious consequences. Instead of a libeling union symbolizing God's love for people, marriage is now seen merely in terms of human companionship; as friendships come and go, so do marriages.

Yet, the dissolution of marriage has a direct effect on the couple involved, their children, and the family and friends that surround them. Divorce can and does have a lasting negative effect on everyone involved. Divorce can cause real and permanent suffering. Remarriage only compounds the situation.

Because of the social and personal ramifications of divorce, the subject carries serious moral weight. Divorce may be an option that delivers a spouse from a personally and morally untenable situation, but it should only be seen as a last resort.

The Church is vitally interested in the true welfare of the married, the divorced, and the remarried. Despite his or her marital status, one should always seek the counsel of a good spiritual guide or confessor. In this way, the person can face the moral challenges that face him or her.

What experience do you have of divorce? How has divorce affected the people involved? Has it given you an opportunity to help others grow closer to God? How?

Family is a core value to all societies, no matter their cultural form. Anything that challenges family should be rejected. Divorce may not challenge every family, but it should be a concern to everyone because it affects the stability of the parents and the welfare of the children.

Maybe we should ask the question in a more positive vein. What are we doing to promote the good of families? How can we insure the stability of parents and the good of children?

Consider those two questions in your own personal world. How can you help a family, its parents and offspring grow this week?