(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
The Gospel for this Sunday seems to have two separate parts. The first is about divorce...
Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
...and the second part is about children...
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them.
The second part follows immediately after the first in the Bible, but they do not seem to relate to each other. There does not appear to be a connection between them, yet the Church has decided to read them both together this Sunday, rather than separating them. Perhaps there is a connection that we cannot see at first.
The part about children is more pleasant 😉 Let's consider that part first.
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.”
The Kingdom of God, Jesus says, belongs to people such as these little children. Little children receive the Kingdom of God in a particular way. How? Here is an example.
One of Jesus' parables is the Parable of the Hidden Treasure:
The kingdom of God is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
There are many things in this short parable that could catch our attention. What do little children notice? Are they interested that the person hides the treasure he has just found? Are they interested in all the things the person sells? Are they interested that he buys the whole field? Are they interested in anything that person does at all? Not really. Little children are interested in the treasure.
The Kingdom of God, Jesus says, is like treasure. It is a gift that, when found, gives great joy. What do we do with treasure? We treasure it, of course! Little children receive the Kingdom of God like this. They treasure this great gift. They are full of joy.
As we grow older, we shift our focus to the effort the person has to make to have that treasure. Many things have to be given up. We also notice that, at the end when he finally has the treasure, it is once again hidden within the field. He has the treasure, but he also has a whole field of dirt and worms as well.
What does any of this have to do with marriage and divorce?
When the Pharisees come to test Jesus he asks them what Moses commanded regarding divorce. The short answer is, "nothing." Moses did not command anything regarding divorce. The Pharisees know this, of course:
They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.
Like today, divorce was a reality. It happened then; it still happens now. Marriages break down. Not all, but some. And Moses knew that there has to be a way of handling this. The concern is, divorce can alter our thinking about marriage. After awhile, deep down we can start to think of marriage as a disposable thing, as something to get rid of when it does not seem to serve us any longer. When our hearts harden due to sorrow and sin, due to disaster and indifference, we can start to think of marriage not as a field containing a treasure, but as a whole lot of worms and dirt.
Jesus reminds us of the treasure. He quotes from each of the first two chapters of Genesis:
But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’
Jesus puts these two verses side by side for us.
God made each of us. Creation is the work of God. We did not make ourselves. Who we are is a gift. We treasure it.
When two people are married, they become one flesh. Something new is created. Creation is the work of God. Marriage invites us into the work of God. This is a gift. We treasure it.
So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
This is the ideal. It is beautiful. But it doesn't always happen. Marriages break down. We know God is merciful and forgiving. We know God heals what we cannot. When life seems impossible, we know God provides new life. Just as death is not the end, neither is divorce. God forgives. God heals.
But what about us? Marriage, for most of us reading this, is many years off. What do we do?
First, we pray. If we are called to marriage, it will be a treasure hidden in a field. Probably we will find it when we are not expecting it. But we will know it is a treasure and so, we will treasure it. We will pray for someone who also treasures marriage.
Second, we pray. Marriage is creative; it is participating in the work of God—therefore, it is also a sign of God. We can say, it is a sacrament of God because it reveals something about God to the world, something that is hidden. Marriage reveals the treasure. We will pray that together we reveal the treasure of God.
Third, we pray. Marriage is not a sacrament for one. It is also not a sacrament for two. God is part of this sacrament—the part that joins the two together. We cannot control what the other person does. We cannot ensure that the other person will not one day view marriage as disposable. We cannot ensure that neither of us experience sin or sorrow, disaster or indifference. But we can pray. There are three partners in marriage. We can pray together.
And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
But marriage is a long way off. For now, in our joy we simply come to Jesus. We treasure what he treasures. And what does Jesus do?