Readings: Genesis 2:18-24; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16
Today we begin Chapter Ten of Mark’s Gospel, when Jesus begins to travel to Jerusalem. For Mark, the holy city represents the unwillingness to believe Jesus; to the religious leaders of this city, Jesus is the hick from Galilee. Acknowledging the opposition, Jesus initiates an extensive teaching on discipleship.
In the ancient Mediterranean world we find codes of conduct for the household–how husbands and wives should interact, children and parents, even slaves; the Pauline Epistles and the First Epistle of Peter include such codes. And that is why today’s Gospel links husbands and wives with the blessing of children. Jesus embraces all these relationships into discipleship.
In the Judaism of his time, a husband could divorce a wife, but a wife could only be divorced; she was treated like property. In the generation before Jesus, the compassionate rabbi, Hillell, made divorce difficult to protect the wife’s security. If divorced, she’d be sent back to her family without any resources, a burden to her family, a poor prospect for remarriage.
Jesus’ reference to the Genesis story underlines that a woman is not a man’s property but a mate, a creature like himself, who could stand up to him, eye-to-eye, unlike the other creatures Adam had named as he searched for the companion he needed.
One costly aspect of being a follower of Jesus is that a husband accepts his marriage as a partnership with a wife who is as human as he is. Jesus underlines that marriage isn’t just a social convenience, detachable from discipleship, but should be assumed as part of following him.
Consistently, he welcomes the children people are bringing to him. Before he mentions an alternative form of discipleship, the radical renunciation of all family and property to follow him–as he will to the rich young man next Sunday–he demands an equally radical renunciation of his not-so-wealthy followers: they cannot ignore the children to draw closer to Jesus. They have to bring them into their life with Christ.
We, too, who have no immediate family, no spouses or children of our own, can we evade our legitimate responsibilities in the name of vocation? How do we integrate them into our life with Christ?