Jesus’ call for openness, receptivity, and mutuality provide a powerful antidote to our culture’s message of individuality and exclusion
Living the Word
Reflection for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
October 4, 2015
The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” They were testing him. He said to them in reply, “What did Moses command you?” They replied,
“Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.”
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 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. So they are no longer two but one flesh.”
To read this Sunday’s Mass readings, click here.
This Sunday marks the opening of the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. This three-week gathering of bishops, theologians, and lay Catholics will explore the opportunities and challenges faced by families—and the Church—in the world today.
While the media has often limited its focus to the possibility of communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics or the place of LGBT Catholics within the Church, for example, the topics to be explored by the Synod are much broader and more inclusive: the challenges of the family, the vocation of the family, and the family’s mission in the Church and the world.
Providentially, the First Reading and Gospel for this Sunday get to the heart of what is at stake in the discussions of the Synod: the mutuality that is the foundation for healthy marriages and families.
The first part of this Sunday’s Gospel recounts a discussion between Jesus and the legalistic Pharisees about divorce. To make their case, the Pharisees looked back to the Book of Deuteronomy (24:1-4) in which Moses allows for a man to divorce his wife and dismiss her from his house. In those days, however, divorce was a somewhat different reality than we know today. The male-oriented social system permitted a man to divorce his wife simply because he found something objectionable in her. Some rabbis said that divorce could only happen if the wife committed adultery, while others argued that a husband was within his rights to seek a divorce for a slight offense, such as a poorly cooked meal (cf. Rabbi Hillel, Mishna Gittin 9:10). Women were not permitted to seek divorce.
Jesus doesn’t take the bait, however. Rather than debate the teaching of Moses, interpreting it as a concession to a hard-hearted people, Jesus redirects the discussion to the ideal union of man and women presented in the second chapter of Genesis (the First Reading).
Genesis tells us that after man was created, God recognized that he needed a “suitable partner” or “a helper” (2:18). The man and the woman were created to live and work together in mutuality and equality. Adam’s response to the gift of the woman beautifully captures this compatibility: “At last, this one is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.”
As Pope Francis observed in Saturday’s Festival of Families, however, “Man and woman, through the astuteness of the devil, learned to separate themselves from one another. And all the love that God gave was almost lost. In a brief period of time, the first crimes, the first fratricide, brother killed a brother; the first war.” Damage was done and the beauty and simplicity of that first relationship was lost. But that wasn’t the end of the story.
And here we come to the second part of this Sunday’s Gospel passage in which Jesus tells his followers that they must become like little children if they hope to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. But he isn’t advocating a naïve, irresponsible, or adolescent approach to life. Rather, Jesus is inviting each of us to adopt the openness and receptivity of children in our approach to God and in our relationships with one another. This open and embracing spirit is also necessary for healthy marriages and families. While divorce will always be a possibility faced by couples and families, Jesus is offering another way that is based on the integrity and beauty of the experience of our first parents.
As couples and families continue to face the demanding realities that are part of growing healthy relationships, Jesus’ call for openness, receptivity, and mutuality provide a powerful antidote to our culture’s message of individuality and exclusion.
How do I respond when conflicts arise in my marriage and in my family?
What can I do to support, encourage, and welcome those who have experienced divorce or family struggles?
How is God calling me to childlike openness in my relationships? What could this mean for me, my spouse, and my family?
What can I do to pray for and support the work of the Synod of Bishops in the coming weeks.
Words of Wisdom: “Joy is an expression of the full realization of a person. To manifest the unique joy of the union of husband and wife and the formation of a new family calls for presenting the family as a place of personal and gratuitous relations, unlike those in society. The voluntary and reciprocal self-giving, the life which is born and the care of one member for the other, from the youngest to the oldest, are just some of the aspects which make the family unique in its beauty. It is important to develop the idea that marriage is a life-long choice which does not limit one’s existence, but instead makes it richer and fuller, even in times of difficulty.”—Instrumentum Laboris of the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (§11)