The Kingdom of God
In his excellent homily for 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Father Hanly shows us the real subject of this week’s gospel is not marriage, the real subject is the Kingdom of God.
Readings for Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
- First Reading: Genesis 2:18-24
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 128:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
- Second Reading: Hebrews 2:9-11
- Gospel: Mark 10:2-16 or 10:2-12
There’s two stories, two readings, in today’s Gospel. And when you first approach this Mass, because the first story has to do with the argument the Pharisees were going to bring up to Jesus, we tend to think that it is all about marriage.
But it’s not about marriage. I mean, it’s about marriage, but then again marriage isn’t the principal focus.
The principal focus of the two stories, Jesus with the Pharisees and Jesus with the little children, the real subject is the Kingdom of God, for Mark is concerned about the Kingdom of God.
What is the Kingdom of God? How do we realise it? Where do we find it? All these questions run through Mark’s Gospel.
And so the first one has to do with, and you must listen carefully…
The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked,
“Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?”
They were testing him
to see what he would say.
It is not a statement of Jesus about marriage. It’s a statement whether they’re going to catch him denying the law of Moses and so they can catch him in denying it and then tell the people that anyone who does not care about the command of Moses cannot be a Messiah.
Jesus is very careful how he answers this and he quotes what you heard in the first reading. He quotes Genesis itself and he says to them…
“Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?”
He said to them in reply, “What did Moses command you?”
“Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce
and dismiss her.”
And then Jesus says, and he quotes from the book of Genesis, he says,
“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.
Therefore what God has joined together,
no human being must separate.”
It was the custom of the people of that time that a husband could divorce his wife, but the wife could not divorce her husband. What he was doing was he was sending her out into a world where she would be alone, because that world was a world, unless you belonged to a family, you had no place to go. It was unfair.
And what were the grounds for divorcing your wife? The grounds, of course, were many, but they even accepted the fact that she was a bad cook. And for being a bad cook, or because her husband fancied something else, or he wasn’t satisfied, or… he could write down letters of divorce.
And so Jesus was condemning that system, not talking about divorce as we might know it, and separation and all that. He was saying a man who does that commits adultery, and he sends his poor wife out, because she has to find a man to live with in order to survive, forcing her to commit adultery as well.
So we come back to what Mark is driving at. Mark is saying something quite different. Mark is saying this is the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of God.
What is the Kingdom of God?
The Kingdom of God is God Himself, the Kingdom of God is love itself, and the Kingdom of God is God’s gift. And it is God’s gift that we are allowed to love, and understand, and come in communication with God Himself.
Now, if this is true, is the act of divorcing your wife an act of recognising that you are brought together by God Himself? It is the life of God.
We still do this today, when we bring married people in front of us, what do we say? We say to them, “It is now you who must marry each other.”
Priests don’t marry people. The marriage ceremony is a ceremony where two people who are living in the Kingdom of God, who have God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s forgiveness, God’s presence, and it is He that locks them together, and each of them give the love of God to each other, the life of God to each other.
It’s an exchange that makes them one in God’s Kingdom, one in His love, His caring, one with His very person.
And Jesus says, “That’s the way it was in the beginning, and no man, even Moses, is allowed to touch the Kingdom of God.”
The second example of the Kingdom of God is a little easier on the nerves, and less controversial, and dismissed nearly all the time.
The scene is very sweet. Jesus has been preaching all day long. He’s very tired. And the disciples worry about Jesus. Sometimes, they worry about him more than the truth of what Jesus is saying.
And, of course, there’s a group of women carrying their children, and they bring the children up to Jesus so that Jesus might touch them and bless them.
And the disciples decide, “Well, he’s had enough for one day,” so they shoo them all away.
And Jesus gets very angry and he says:
“Suffer the little children to come to me; forbid them not: for of such is the Kingdom of God.
“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you accept the Kingdom of God like these little children, you will never know what it is, you will never understand what it means to have it, to pray for it, to ask for it.”
Because the Kingdom of God is the gift of God. It is not something that we earn. It is the gift of God, just as the love in a marriage is the gift of God, and the life of a marriage is the gift of God. It’s not something that we ourselves earn. It is a donation. And it is given because God loves us and God cares for us.
And so what Jesus is saying is if you cannot accept the gift of God like this little child does, you will never know what it means to have the presence of God within you. You might come on your hands and knees and serve Him, you might say all kinds of prayers to Him, you might ask Him for everything, but your prayers are just empty breeze and wind.
These children take Jesus, take God Himself, into their hearts, no questions, no demands, nothing, because they understand that God loves them, that God cares for them, and they open their hearts in their simplicity.
And they know their need for God, because a child is radically insecure. They don’t worry about being secure by gaining money or power or name or all of these things. This means nothing to children. Children open their hearts and accept the love of God, no questions asked. And this is truly the Kingdom of God.
And that is why Jesus said, “You must love as children love. You must give. You must not question. You must not have this idea that, “Will it be good for me if I do this for God?” etc, etc. For the gift of God is the gift of God. And it is given to children, because children, in their need, accept it.
Do you remember when your parents brought you to the first crib on a Christmas Eve and looked in and maybe your father, as mine did, said, “Now this is Jesus, God’s son. It’s God’s gift. And he has come to be with us, to love us, to take care of us.”
And we never questioned it. We never said, “Well, if it’s good for me, then I’ll take it. Or, well, if things don’t go so well, I’ll reject it.” It was pure and simple a gift of God.
And this is what Mark wants us to know. He wants us to know that if you come as a little child and accept the presence of God, the love of God, the gift of His Son, and you come to know Him and love Him and be happy with Him…
Remember the catechism we all learn:
“What is the purpose of life?”
“It is to know God, to serve God, and to be happy with Him in this life and for all eternity.”
Very simple. No questions of divorce and separations, mistakes, this that and the other. Those are other questions that have to be faced in another arena.
What Mark is saying: God’s gift is Himself. He puts Himself in a vulnerable way into our own lives.
And what does this do?
As I said to someone a little while ago, all the sins we commit are committed out of selfishness. The only thing that is going to move us out of the centring of our lives on ourself is going to be God, who’s saying, “I open, if you open your heart to me, I will come, and I will be the centre, and, together, we can look at the world.”
For to have the Kingdom of God in your own heart means that you begin to look at the world in different ways. You are no longer the centre. You are just one of His loving children. And you sing praise and song and accept Him.
And so it is that Mark will tell us that the Kingdom of God is to be like a child.
Do you remember Palm Sunday? The Pharisees plotted the death of the Messiah. The apostles were arguing with each other as to who comes first. And the Pharisees were saying to them, because the children were singing, “Hosanna to the Son of David, welcome to the Messiah,” and they said to Jesus, “Stop them. They’re saying blasphemous things.” And Jesus says to them, “If I stop them, even the stones would sing out.”
The children knew. All the others, it passed them by. The trouble with a God that makes Himself vulnerable enough to be as a child, to speak almost as a child, to live with us almost like a child is, with faith in us, with hope in us, and certainly with love for us, this is the great mystery. And this is what is the joy, not only of Christmas, but even in the darkest moments and difficulties of our life it is the great light that shines.
For Jesus said, “I am the way, I am the truth and I am the life.”
And this is what makes us Christians.
So let us rejoice and be glad, for we have finally understood that the secret to opening up the heart of God is to become a child.