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September 30, 1994     The Message
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September 30, 1994 The Message --for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana 9 -'- Commentary .- Divorce and remarriage: Children and the Kingdom of God Gospel commentary for Oc- tober 2, 1994, Twenty.seventh Sunday, Ordinary Time, Cycle B, Mark 10:2-16. Mark portrays for us one of the frequent debates occurring between the Jewish scribes (interpreters of Scripture) of Jesus' time and be- tween Jesus and the scribes. One of the issues debated in the first cen- tury was the matter of divorce. Did Moses allow a husband to divorce his wife? The question is phrased in this way because Jewish law or custom By FATHER DON DILGER COLUMNIST did not seem to permit a wife to di- vorce her husband. There are, however, examples gwen in Jewish writings in which a wife could insist that her husband divorce her. Divorce was allowed among the Jews of Jesus' time through an interpretation of a law in Deuteron- omy 24:1-4. This law originally was aimed at prevent- ing a wife who had been divorced by her husband and remarried to another man who also divorced her from ::tl:ing,,t her first husband. Such a practice was an abomination before the Lord "The law did however take divorce among the ancient Israelites for granted. Jesus explains that divorce was not in the original divine plan but Moses allowed divorce as a concession, perhaps to human weakness or the reali- :d: married li!e; The Marcan Jesus calls it "your ess ofeart. Quoting the Torah he shows how God never intended divorce because the two married partners "become one flesh (person)." What God there- fore joined must not be separated by a man (the hus- band). So much for the public answer. As is Mark's custom he now depicts Jesus ex- plaining the matter privately to his disciples. They may have been troubled by such an absolute pro- hibition of divorce as contrary to prevailing custom and the difficul- ties of married life. Now Mark in- troduces two new elements into the discussion, remarriage after divorce and the unJewish practice of the wife divorcing her husband. The latter is thought to reflect not Jewish but Roman law and is one of the indications that Mark wrote for the Christians at Rome. The Marcan Jesus assures his disci- ples that no matter who initiates the divorce, both spouses commit adultery if they remarry. Mark was undoubtedly using this story to re- spond to a debate within his Church a debate about whether or not Christians could divorce and remarry. Mark declares that Jesus forbade both divorce and remarriage after divorce. The prohibition Was absolute, at least in that particu- lar Christian Church, or at least Mark sets up the absolute prohibition of both as the ideal. Were ex- ceptions allowed at all, perhaps because of"the hardness of your hearts" or other reasons? We know that exceptions were allowed in other Christian communities. Matthew allows divorce and remarriage for one reason. The Greek word he uses can mean many things, e.g. incest, forni- cation, concubinage, adultery. From the Scriptures, though not from the practice of our Church, it is a valid interpretation to say that Matthew allowed divorce and remar- riage in case of adultery on the part of one or both of the spouses. Paul, too, allowed an exception to the permanence of marriage. See I Corinthians 7:10-16 for the "Pauline Privilege." The overriding principle for deciding such matters is given by Paul: "For God has called us to peace." Let us therefore not judge harshly divorced people. The Scriptures give us not only the ideal but also recognize the real. Mark ends our gospel with a brief story about people bringing children to Jesus "that he might touch them." We assume Mark means a blessing by the imposition of hands. The disciples rebuked the people (the children also?). Jesus angrily rebukes his disciples and orders them not to hinder the children from coming to him. And he blesses the children. Here again we must ask just what is Mark teaching his Church and us by this story? There are various interpretations. Was there a debate whether or not children were to be baptized, or perhaps whether they may share in the Eu- charist? Mark would answer affirmatively to both Questions with the words of Jesus: "Let the little children come to me for of such is the kingdom of God." Children have the same rights in the Church as do adults to spiritual birth and nourishment. Then Mark adds another saying of Jesus: "Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." Two possibilities: the rule of God in our hearts is to be accepted as unquestionably and unconditionally as one picks up a little child that holds out its hands to us. Or, the kingdom or rule of God is a free gift. 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