18th Sunday after Trinity
Mark 10:2-16 Genesis 2:18-24
Ask older children or teenagers what they want to be when they’re grown up and the answer many will give is: ‘I want to be famous’. What they seem to aspire to may be beyond their reach in the way they would envisage it, but no doubt there’s a reason why they are looking for this particular achievement. We seem to be living in an age of ‘celebrity’: when anybody who’s come into the limelight for achieving or saying something we think is remarkable, becomes famous and an object of adoration. So often, it ends in disaster, when those who have ‘risen to the top’, as it were, are then finding themselves as living in a cage, that limits their freedom, and they have become public property, with all its dangers and hazards attached to their status. One of the reasons why this is so difficult for some is that being famous comes with expectations; not only for the person involved but even more so for the public that ‘owns’ them. I suppose that nowadays the media are playing a role too, whether they realise it or not, in creating the atmosphere of love and hate in this respect. I don’t think that I’m alone in thinking this: so-called ‘news items’ about the rich and famous and their marriages, for example, pop up almost every day. It is difficult to ignore.
If marriage is our gift, we want it to be good, and God’s plan for marriage affirms it. But it doesn’t always turn out well and this becomes even more painful when it affects somebody prominent, like the royal family. It is often at those moments when journalists begin to probe – not just asking about the issue in the theological sense, when they interview, say, a bishop, but leading on to the person in question, which is really what they want to talk about. Their questions become traps, and that is the case too in Mark’s gospel, when the Pharisees come to test Jesus on the matter of divorce.
There are a few things going on here: Jesus was in the place where John the Baptist had ministered and called people to repent and be baptised. But didn’t this lead to his being imprisoned and losing his head for criticising Herod Antipas for marrying his brother’s wife? She had to divorce her husband for this to happen. In other words, they were trying to get Jesus to incriminate himself by denouncing Herod’s actions in public. Jesus doesn’t mention divorce in his answer to the Pharisees’ question. But that doesn’t mean that his answer about God’s intention for marriage wasn’t relevant; it was! He didn’t go deeper into the matter of divorce that the Pharisees were trying to trap him with, until he was alone with his disciples. That’s when he elaborates on the subject and says that the special gift of marriage should not be tampered with through divorce, as it is simply adultery.
The final part of the reading from Mark 10 focusses on the children that were brought to Jesus, so that he could bless them. I think it’s nicely put after the previous teaching; maybe we can understand it a bit like this:
Marriage, as ordained by God in Genesis 2, is the bond between husband and wife that creates not only a partnership between the two but a new entity in itself, a new identity or a new human being. It is not just about the children that may be born to this new creation, but it’s to reflect the purpose of God’s gift which is to be in tune with God’s plan, which is all for the benefit of the human race and the world.
That takes us to the paragraph about the children who are being brought to Jesus. They are an image of the new, of hope, of the fulfilment of longing for purpose. Jesus’ anger at those who prevent children to come to him and feel his welcome, his warmth and his love, is well-placed. We know at whom this anger is aimed: those who think that children don’t matter, at best. In Jesus’ day, they had the lowest status in society, and he uses them as a symbol for how we should receive the Kingdom of God. Children can teach us something about responsibility for the weak and vulnerable, and they are an example about what it means to be trusting, to have faith, and to accept God’s goodness through Jesus. If we don’t already know, may we all learn to receive Christ in this way. Amen.