People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. (Mark 9: 13-16)Jesus is teaching us throughout Mark's Gospel. Sometimes the message seems clear. Other times, it feels enmeshed in thick mists. The words are clear enough, but when they strike our hearts, a great cloud of emotion, experience and memory erupts to occlude a clear vision of our purpose as followers of the Redeemer. Jesus is the light coming into the world, yes; but at times when that light strikes us we wind up entangled in mists that grace should burn off. That mist, our own struggle to let go of "that which is not God" in order to embrace "that which is of God" is the great challenge for us as we seek to be the Church to the world.
So, do not be afraid. It's time to talk about marriage, divorce and family values...and to take some time to mull over Jesus' teachings on these topics (at least as Mark presents them, above).
You might wonder why I left off the first portion of the lesson for Sunday...the part that seems to explicitly speak to issues of marriage, of divorce? Simple: the question posed by the Pharisees on the issue of divorce (and their assumptions about marriage, to boot) need to be taken in context with the values of relationships as they were in those days. Tell me, what was marriage-as people experienced it-in first century Palestine? What was divorce?
They were both something different from what we experience today. Love as an essential ingredient of marriage, as romantic love is expressed these days, was not so much a factor in finding a marriage. Families, heritages, business concerns and bloodlines were more greatly weighted. In addition, women were not seen as partners in union. They were chattel, vessels at best. they were disadvantaged by the commerce of marriage as it was in those days. The same went for children. Children had no worth until they could either support the family. That meant surviving long enough to marry and raise up their own progeny. Women and children were....expendable. The reality of Moses' providing a path to divorce was really a defense of women, so that they might be able to leave an unjust system in hopes of renewal. There's more to it all, but for the sake of this posting, please embrace the summary that Jesus' condemnation of the abuse of marriage, the sorry solution of divorce at the time and the general attitude toward children/family devotion is the very root of his summary response I did quote above.
Jesus points to the breaking point in our lives, in our relationships, when he challenges the disciples to review their attitude toward the children who are so often in those days relegated to the back, to being forgotten underfoot...to not counting as much at all. He reminds them, and us, that we are called to extend our understanding of "us" to all of God's children regardless of age, gender, race, nationality, tribal identity, class status, role or place in society.
When Jesus asks them to let the little ones come to him, he is clarifying the standard of greeting and defining the parameters of relationship we are called to embrace with each other as we strive to enter into being more fully the kingdom of God. ALL God's children are to be celebrated as members of the family. ALL God's children are to have access to relationships that build up, rather than tear down. ALL God's children not only deserve...but HAVE access to Jesus.
What is up to us as disciples of the Loving (and Living) One?
Make sure open access is generously, even scandalously, maintained.