Let The Children Come To Me
Ordinary 27 Year B
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Mark 10: 1 — 16
Jesus is leaving Galilee for the last time. He has been concentrating on teaching His chosen twelve, although the general population are not denied their share of His attention.
Mark is usually a Gospel of action and mighty deeds, but this journey to Jerusalem is mainly taken up with profound teaching. The text before us is one of those lessons.
The core subject treated in this captured encounter with the learned authorities of Judaism is well known to Christians. In our day the topic brings much heartache to those who try to honour our Lord’s obvious intentions. Our notes cannot possibly cover the moral law arising from and based on this type of teaching. Our purpose is to present the “first base” only: what actually took place in this episode.
It is significant that as the passage unfolds we observe Jesus do something no one had done before Him: He recognised that a man could commit adultery against his own wife. There were some who would have executed Jesus for this alone!
Some Reflections on the Text
He set out from there and went into the district of Judea (and)
across the Jordan. Again crowds gathered around him and,
as was his custom, he again taught them.
The exact route Jesus took as He headed South around the Sea of Galilee, is impossible to define; it is the proclamation of divine truth which has first place in Mark. The mention of crowds indicates common folk willing to listen. These people could hardly spare the time to listen to an itinerant preacher, but for Jesus they made time: in other words, they simply took it!
The Pharisees approached and asked, “Is it lawful for a
husband to divorce his wife?” They were testing him.
The Greek text of verse 2 opens with, “Pharisees”, meaning, “Some Pharisees”. Our translation includes the definite article, “the” to link this incident with others where the same authorities (or Pharisees of the same conflicting frame of mind) continued to challenge Jesus and hinder His teaching. It is very important for us to understand that not all of the Pharisees (even the senior ones) were opposed to our Lord.
We observe also that they came to “test” Jesus. In rabbinic tradition this was not always sinister. Our Lord seemed to have no difficulty discerning the motives of any of His challengers. We know He loved a good honest debate, as we see in the account of His evening with the venerable Nicodemus. On the occasion described in the present text, it was clear to Jesus that the learned authorities were not there to enquire or to debate, but rather to trap. They chose the time, the place, and the topic (which meant effectively in this case, the weapon).
The question of these Pharisees — “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” — can only mean, “Is it taught in the Law (the Torah, first five books of the Bible: the Law of Moses) that a man can divorce his wife?”
We note that the question put forward was not:
• Is divorce allowed by God?
• Can marriage be annulled?
• Can a woman divorce her husband?
The focus is entirely upon the rights of the husband.
He said to them in reply, “What did Moses command you?”
Jews often joke about how good they are at answering a question with another question. And Jesus was very good at it!
The question from Jesus, in Jewish culture would have been interpreted as, “What commandment about this did Moses (meaning God through Moses) give you?”
The only reply from His listeners which would have been correct, would be, “Well, actually, none”. Our Lord, in this scenario, was well in control of the direction the dialogue was taking. In strict Orthodox Jewish tradition He began His answer with a reference to the Torah (albeit a shrewd question). In the best tradition He enquires, “What divine commandment is there? What is God’s will in this matter?” After all, that is the basis of all moral law, and Jesus shows only a desire to support it and give it new depth: not to undermine or supercede it. (Cole)
They replied, “Moses permitted him to write a bill of divorce
and dismiss her.”
The reply from His adversaries is as quick as it is smug! They concede to Jesus the point He scored but, from their experience, they probably anticipated that anyway. The answer from the Pharisees actually meant that a man, if dissatisfied with his wife, was authorised by Moses to employ the privilege of simply writing out a certificate of divorce which immediately terminated the marriage.
In Jewish Law at that time, there were two principal schools of thought, one according to Shammai and the other according to Hillel. At this point we turn to a short passage which provides crucial information.
There was the school of Shammai They interpreted the matter with utter strictness. A matter of indecency was adultery and adultery alone. Let a woman be as bad as Jezebel, unless she was guilty of adultery there could be no divorce.
The other school was the school of Hillel. They interpreted that crucial phrase as widely as possible. They said that it could mean:
● if the wife spoiled a dish of food,
● if she spun in the streets,
● if she talked to a strange man,
● if she spoke disrespectfully of her husband’s relations
in his hearing,
● if she was a brawling woman, (who was defined as
a woman whose voice could be heard in the next
● The Rabbi Akiba even went the length of saying
that it meant if a man found a woman who was
fairer in his eves than his wife was.
Human nature being as it is, it was the laxer view which prevailed.
The result was that divorce for the most trivial reasons, or for no
reason at all, was tragically common. To such a pass had things
come that, in the time of Jesus, women hesitated to marry at all
because marriage was so insecure. When Jesus spoke as He did, He
was speaking on a subject which was a burning issue, and He was
striking a blow for women by seeking to restore marriage to the
position it ought to have.
(From The Gospel of Mark by William Barclay. St. Andrew Press, Edinburgh, 1975)
This quotation helps is see where the Pharisees “were coming from”. It was that kind of reasoning which they thought enabled them to declare, “So Moses approved divorce”. Our Lord, however, considered their argument to be based on a misrepresentation of Deuteronomy 24: 1. Moses did, in that passage, declare something of very great importance. Paraphrasing it into our manner of speaking may illustrate the dilemma he was facing:
“There is nothing that I can do or say that will stop you breaking your marriage contract. So, if you must do this, then it can only be after you have given her a bill of divorce certifying that you have released her and that she is free to marry again.” In this way, Jesus wanted to point out, Moses at least protected the woman rejected by her husband.
Thus we observe that “this legislation” did not grant the Hebrews the right to reject as a privilege. It simply tolerated an abuse which was due to their evil dispositions. Divorce did not correspond to the primitive institution of marriage. (J. O’Flynn).
Verses 5 and 6
But Jesus told them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts
he wrote you this commandment.
But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male
In these words our Lord continues to make a distinction between what Moses needed to do under duress, and what the Pharisees present were claiming it empowered them to do. Moses could not hold back the tide of public opinion; but as Jesus acknowledges, he tried to limit sinfulness and control its consequences. Jesus therefore implied, “Moses had to do something, since you wanted everything your own way, and had little concern for the women, who had no rights at all.”
Then, in the very best tradition, our Lord presents to His opponents the basis of His argument: the creation by God of man and woman at the beginning. Rabbinic tradition at that time taught that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, and so Jesus was also quoting Moses who recorded, under inspiration, the most holy will of God our Creator and His plan for humanity.
God’s Will in regard to marriage and divorce is shown in the primitive institution of marriage as recorded in Genesis 1: 27 and 2: 24. Man and woman united in marriage are linked by bonds as real and permanent as those which unite members of the same family. Divorce therefore, is contrary to God’s Law. (J. O’Flynn).
Verses 7 — 9
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother
(and be joined to his wife),
and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer
two but one flesh.
Therefore what God has joined together, no human being
Text Note: The Hebrew meaning Jesus intended in the term, “flesh,”
embraces the whole person, who, whole and entire, body and soul,
binds himself with the other. (Stock, OSB)
Perhaps we could paraphrase in order to try and hear it the way it sounded to our Lord’s listeners, with their highly specialised cultural background: “In God’s plan,” says Jesus, “two different people shall marry and shall be just as they are one person”. (By “one flesh” Jesus denotes a relationship more intimate and binding than any other. UBS).
“As such”, continues Jesus, “they have equal rights and obligations. Thus since this is God’s plan for us, His will (Torah), no male can claim the right (as you are now) to get his own way simply by writing out a certificate and sending his wife off! The escape clause provided by Moses is therefore rescinded. The Law God laid down for humanity is now fully restored!”
To this bold declaration of Jesus no one uttered
a single sound!
Verses 10 — 12
In the house the disciples again questioned him about this.
He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries
another commits adultery against her;
and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she
Jesus here reaffirms that neither partner is set free through divorce to marry again. Husband and wife are on equal footing in this respect. (J. O’Flynn).
Wisely, the disciples (the Twelve) waited until they could go inside the house before they asked Jesus to explain what He had said. In fact He didn’t seem to explain very much but rather chose to drive it home even more emphatically. We do not need to paraphrase it; Jesus is very clear. The only thing we need to note, due to the difference of language structure, is that the reference to “adultery against her” refers to the first wife. Likewise the wife could commit adultery against her original husband.
Thus we witness, yet again, how Jesus deals with the inappropriate use of Sacred Scripture to support one’s own agenda. The Pharisees laid a trap. Jesus made it a lesson not to be easily forgotten!
Verses 13 – 16
And people were bringing children to him that he might touch
them, but the disciples rebuked them.
When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them,
“Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the
kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom
of God like a child 2 will not enter it.”
Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands
Text note: The use of the word “touch” in verse 13 is a technical use of
the word meaning to “lay hands upon,” with the purpose of blessing.”
And so Jesus concluded His powerful delivery with one of his best remembered lines: “Let the children come to me ..…” He thus went on to recall what the Pharisees had not even considered: the children! We could sum up His attitude towards them in this way:
“These children demonstrate something about God’s will, about what is eternal in God’s plan for all people: married, single, young and old”. And what is this?
The point of this comparison is not so much the innocence and
humility of children (for children are not invariably either
innocent or humble): it is rather the fact that children are
unselfconscious, receptive, and content to be dependent on
others’ care and bounty; it is in such a spirit that the kingdom
“must be received” — it is a gift of God, and not an achievement
on the part of man; it must be simply accepted, inasmuch as
it can never be deserved. (Rawlinson)
We close with an excellent summary and overview of this important lesson by Jesus, plus one of His favourite prayers.
The divorce case ‘test’ the Pharisees designed was either to show
Jesus untrue to the teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures or to get
Him into trouble with the ruling Herod clan (whose quantity
of divorces, remarriages and intermarriages was quite appalling).
The Jewish rabbis of Jesus’ day differed widely on their
interpretations of the Deut. 24: 1 — 4 prescription for divorce.
It was customary for a man only to be allowed the option of
initiating a divorce, which was obtained simply by the husband
writing a certificate of divorce to give his wife.
Jesus challenges Jewish practice, because in reality it had
resulted in women being sent away for such reasons as
appearance or cooking. In first century Palestine, that was
throwing a woman on the streets, for she would be an
embarrassment and burden to her family of origin, and would
have had no way of making her own living. Jesus sought to
correct what He felt was a gross injustice against women of His
time, and against God’s intent for marriage. Jesus, ever a step
ahead of His adversaries, relies not on Moses’ rules, but
hearkens farther back to God’s intent at creation. If God truly
joins a man and a woman together, then they have so become
one (Gen.2: 24) that they cannot be separated. For partners so
joined, to marry others is adultery.
Jesus’ teaching must also have been aimed at protection of
children who would undoubtedly have suffered from such
divorce practices. Like women, children were considered
“property”, had no rights, and no respect as human beings.
Jesus is angered by his disciples who try to send the children
away as if they were of no value. Instead He caresses them
and blesses them, recognising them as valuable, as persons.
He does not hesitate to point to children as examples of the
trust and openness to the values of God’s reign that all
disciples must learn. Mary Betz
A song of ascents.
1 Blessed are all who fear the LORD,
5 May the LORD bless you from Zion;
New American Bible
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible,
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Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature
(Mark 16: 15)
Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so,
Let the Children Come to Me
Ordinary 27 Year B St. Mark 10: 1 to 16
1. As in our Lord’s time, so in ours, the breakdown in marriages is an ever-present tragedy. In any Christian community, it is the whole community which is affected — and is therefore called to do whatever it can to help all concerned. Our Lord enunciated a number of principles and calls upon His followers to do their best to uphold them. If, having done their best, and a marriage fails, it is time for genuine charity, the love of God, to come into play as the overriding principle.
Our Lord said nothing to judge anyone in this matter. He was most focussed on encouraging His followers to keep before them God’s intention in Genesis 1: 27. We are to try to help one another to return marriage to its intended status in our society
This will certainly require us to pray fervently for help to keep His Law. Instead of pointing fingers at one another, let’s point them towards God in prayer for one another.
When a marriage breaks down, we should not judge people but offer help, as we are able, to all who are involved. This help should include the warmest most loving and sympathetic responses and ongoing prayer and support. This is one of the most urgent needs of our time.
2. St. Mark makes reference to our Lord’s love of children for a number of reasons. They are, of course, greatly affected in marriage breakdowns. The way Jesus chose to refer to them in some of His most difficult lessons indicates He also saw them as living symbols of hope and love.
Thus, even in teaching about difficult and sensitive matters, our Lord draws us towards the future and does not permit us to remain stuck in some past event, no matter how distressing.
3. Many of us feel just a touch of envy at the lucky youngsters getting a hug from Jesus.
But our Lord, was always bringing to our notice the privilege enjoyed by members of God’s Household. He actually gave His followers a sure way of getting a “spiritual hug” from God, and it was in the form of a prayer, which we all know with slight variations in wording. “When you pray”, He said, “you are to say”:
Our Father in Heaven,
Some Christians add to our Lord’s words an ancient Jewish blessing of God —
“For the kingdom, the power
Nothing, for the disciples of Jesus, brings us closer into the arms of our Heavenly Father. If we do not recognise this — the greatest of all prayers — as a “spiritual hug,” we need to learn what the prayer means, and what we have not understood.
Mark 10: 1 to 16
1 He set out from there and went into the district of Judea
2 1 The Pharisees approached and asked, “Is it lawful for a
3 He said to them in reply, “What did Moses command you?”
4 They replied, “Moses permitted him to write a bill of divorce
5 But Jesus told them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts
6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male
7 For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother
8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer
9 Therefore what God has joined together, no human being
10 In the house the disciples again questioned him about this.
11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries
12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she
13 And people were bringing children to him that he might touch
14 When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them,
15 Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom
16 Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands
1 [2-9] In the dialogue between Jesus and the Pharisees on the subject of divorce, Jesus declares that the law of Moses permitted divorce (⇒ Deut 24:1) only because of the hardness of your hearts (⇒ Mark 10:4-5). In citing ⇒ Genesis 1:27 and ⇒ 2:24 Jesus proclaims permanence to be the divine intent from the beginning concerning human marriage (⇒ Mark 10:6-8). He reaffirms this with the declaration that what God has joined together, no human being must separate (⇒ Mark 10:9). See further the notes on ⇒ Matthew 5:31-32; ⇒ 19:3-9.
2  Whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child: i.e., in total dependence upon and obedience to the gospel; cf ⇒ Matthew 18:3-4.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible,