Weddings at churches are commonplace weekend events. Just this this weekend I celebrated a wedding where the first reading was the same as we have for the Mass today. Had the couple chosen the same New Testament and Gospel readings I could have just used the same homily, except then I’d be telling you to go forth and remember this day as the day in your marriage when you loved each other the least. Somehow I don’t think that it would have worked.
As I looked at the lectionary for today I thought it strange—maybe even a little humorous— that we have a reading about suffering wedged in between two stories about marriage. I was tempted to throw in Woody Allen’s “to love is to suffer dialogue,” but I’d never be able to recover from it if I did, and you would probably never forgive me. It’s best to get on to the deeper meanings. There is a mystery to explore.
In the very beginning, when God began to form all things and place in us the breath of life, that which God is, God created a partnership with humanity. Today is a good day to talk about life and the relationship that forms out of it. It’s Respect Life Sunday, and the month of October is Respect Life month. So it makes for a good meditation to consider life today.
At the time of creation God set men and women as stewards of the earth giving us a share in creation and establishing an original ecology where human beings had interconnection and interrelatedness with all things, and especially we had it with each other. The man saw the connection that God had created and he looked upon the woman and said of her, “This is bone of of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”
In the gospel today, we find the one time on record that Jesus taught about marriage. Today it’s from Mark’s gospel but it’s also repeated in Matthew and Luke. It’s a synoptic story. All three versions tell of the same event and make the same point: there is something so unique and so original about marriage that it can’t be lawfully dissolved. God created us for each other, and again in the act of marrying we say to each other, “You are bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh… what happens to you happens also to me.”
It is no accident that today’s gospel moves from the encounter with the Pharisees over a matter of law into the telling of the story of Jesus and the little children. It makes perfect sense when we consider that children are the natural result of the union of man and woman. God gives us a role in creation. It’s been that way from the beginning. Life is imparted to us, and we share life through the act of love.
This story of Jesus and the children bears a special importance to me. I recall being about five years old and my great aunt who brought me up called me into the kitchen. “Danny,” she said, “there’s something I want to share with you.” She brought out the family bible and turned to the story of Jesus and the little children. It was the same one we heard today.
Backtracking just a bit, it’s important to note something. I was born as the child of a teenage girl in the late 1950s in a small town in a bleak and desolate part of northwest Texas that had little more than an attitude and a few oil field pumps. I was with my great aunt and great uncle because the gift of adoption.
My great aunt told me there was something so special about little children that the Lord himself said that if we don’t become like them we would not enter his kingdom. I spent years trying to figure out what could possibly have been meant by that. I’m a schoolteacher and I’ve taught elementary, middle school, and high school, and I’m a parent of three kids myself. I have to say, knowing kids, I’m not sure exactly what Jesus was getting at. Seriously though, I love kids, though I know sometimes we all have our more difficult moments.
The story of Jesus and the little children contains the great lesson that we are to depend on God as our heavenly parent in the same way that a little baby depends on his or her mom or dad—or even aunts and uncles or grandparents—to provide everything. In the same way, God, our heavenly parent, provides everything for us. We are like little children—babies—held in the arms of the living God.
From the storehouse of creation God gives us enough for today and some for tomorrow. The story of Jesus and the children, if we delve into it and meditate upon it, also teaches us of the reciprocity inherent in our relationship the Divine. We too are to give to others completely and fully, even sacrificially. This is an important thing for spouses to consider, especially when marriage presents its trials.
I’ve been married for almost 20 years and I have a good marriage. I love my wife, but I would be a liar if I said that there had never been any time of difficulty. Marriage takes hard work, and sometimes it might even seem a bit like suffering—sometimes, in some of our lives, the suffering is real and tragic no doubt—but thankfully for most of us, given the right effort, marriage can become the greatest of all blessings. Here I believe it is important to realize the non-judgmental nature of grace. No one should be daunted because of the failure of a marriage. Again, in God there is fullness of grace.
Those of us who have children know how joyful it is to be parents, but we also admit that suffering can part of parenthood too. Often it’s out of our hands. There may be suffering because of disease or disability, or just because life with kids brings challenges our way. We look at our children and to them too we say, “You are bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh…what happens to you happens to me.” The eternal breath of life that is the source of all that is and all that will ever be, the eternal, invisible, ineffable name, also desired throughout time to say to us, “You are bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”
Jesus’ life is one that restores the original connection between God and us. Jesus mends the unlawful divorce that had occurred between humanity and our source. The mending took pain. We know all too well the events of the Passion, but through it that relationship which was broken was healed and restored. God now invites us on this sixth day to enter into the Sabbath rest.
Jesus is the one about whom the eternal and holy God can say, “This my flesh and bone; my body and my blood.” By Jesus’ humanity, which he shares as one of us, we become known to God. We become the children of the one who made all things, and that one now says to us “You are mine now, and I feel what you feel. We are of one body”
The creator invites us to commune with each other and with all that God is and with all that God has made. We are invited to participate in a reestablished relationship, a new original ecology with the breath of life that flows in all things, and in an irrevocable new covenant with God. The relationship we hold is one that no law, no power, no force on earth, can ever eradicate—there is no place for fear at all—for we are married to our maker forever.