Opening the Word: A Difficult Obedience


Today’s Gospel consists of a surprising contrast. Jesus first provides teaching about divorce, then he tells the same crowd that they must accept the kingdom of God as little children.

What is the relationship between these two moments?

As we see in Genesis, Christ’s teaching about the impossibility of divorce is grounded in the original sacramentality of marriage.

The first man was created by God. He knew God, intimately communing with the Creator. But he longed — even if he was unaware of the source of this longing — for a creature to share communion with.

So, God invites the first man to name the creatures of the earth. Among all the creatures, he discovers no one creature who is a companion.

God puts the first man into a deep sleep, and from his side, God gifts this first man with woman. Woman with man.

Genesis is saying something significant about marriage in describing the creation of Adam and Eve. Marriage is linked to our original desire for unity. We are meant for communion.

We know that this original unity was fractured.

Upon eating from the fruit of the tree, Adam fractures communion. He blames God for creating this woman, a companion that in his mind led him into sin. He does not look upon his own transgressions, he does not confess his sin and, therefore, gratitude to God.

He blames. He separates.

We can recognize the roots of divorce in the first sins of our parents. Divorce was not what God intended.

And Jesus, as the one who has come to proclaim and inaugurate the kingdom of God makes this clear.

There is no real divorce. The bond created between man and woman is permanent.

This is a hard teaching. Extraordinarily difficult.

We do not live in a pre-fall world. We cannot go back and imagine what it’s like to experience relationship as pure communion.

Sure, we can kind of think about it, kind of hope for it, kind of long for it.

But it’s not our world.

For this reason, Jesus turns to a child. He imagines us to take up the posture of a child.

When I teach my children, they are generally open to what I propose. They do not always understand or like the teaching. But they generally accept it because they presume it is for their good. Because I, as a parent, have their best interest at heart.

Sure, they ask questions. Daddy, why is this the case? How is this possible? Is it fair?

A good parent knows how to answer these questions. A mom or a dad does not respond with force or violence.

“Because I said so” is insufficient.

Jesus is telling us to receive this teaching on divorce, therefore, as a child. We must accept that it’s good, even if it’s hard. It is what God wanted for men and women from the beginning.

This means that many of us might need to change in our marriages. Disunity is caused by all sorts of things. Alcoholism. Domestic abuse. Pornography. A forgetfulness to love our beloved.

Husbands and wives must change. Receiving this teaching as a child, open to the teaching, aware that it is good for us. Even if it hurts.

And yet, we can ask questions of the teaching. We can wonder about it.

Many in our pews do.

Preachers and catechists should respond as a loving parent to such queries. We should listen to their wounds, helping them to see the “good news” in Jesus’ words.

If we are to receive hard teachings as a child, then the Church must also be a loving parent of all those who wonder aloud, “How is it possible?”

October 3 – Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gn 2:18-24
Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
Heb 2:9-11
Mk 10:2-16


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