The first section of Mark 10 (1-12) contains some of Jesus’ most explicit thought on marriage. He is initially challenged by the Pharisees to explain why Moses allowed divorce while Jesus speaks of the permanence of marriage. Jesus responds first by identifying humanity’s “hardness of heart” (Mark 10:5) as the excuse for Moses’ provision for divorce. Then, He points them back to the beginning (Genesis 1-2), where the man and woman were designed to become one and not be split apart (cf Mark 10:6-9) as God’s design for marriage. The hardness of heart which Jesus identified had a lot to do with the ancient world’s view of women as a possession – many would find themselves treated almost like animals and slaves, and by allowing the certificate of divorce, Moses was protecting their dignity and offering them a certain degree of freedom. But this provision does not live up to God’s vision of marriage – which Jesus expresses – of a permanent, life-giving union between a man and a woman. It’s true that marriage can be – and often is – difficult, but our society doesn’t simply see divorce as provisional… too often, it becomes the easy way out for partners who have become selfish and self-centered. To these, Pope John Paul II wrote:
“To all those who, in our times, consider it too difficult, or indeed impossible to be bound up to one person for the whole of life, and to those caught up in a culture that rejects the indissolubility of marriage and openly mocks the commitment of spouses to fidelity, it is necessary to reaffirm the good news of the definitive nature of that conjugal love that has in Christ its foundation and strength.”
Marriage is designed as a mirror of the love that Christ has for the Church (see Ephesians 5) – and it is connected to His love that married love finds its true fulfillment. It shouldn’t be surprising then that those marriages who base themselves upon this love: practicing self-control and chastity both before and during the marriage; learning to pray with one another; and pouring their love into others (including an openness to the life and children God often blesses us with) discover joy, happiness, and holiness in their marriage… and find no need for divorce. In fact, for many of these, divorce is unthinkable. But where selfishness and self-centeredness reign supreme, where there is no self-control, and where there is no room to let love spill in to others… divorce becomes a perceived need.**
Next, after the disciples tried to keep children from Jesus, the Lord explains to them the importance of being childlike (Mark 10:13-16) – and lists this as being a requirement to inherit the kingdom of God. In recent times, St. Therese of Lisieux exemplified this childlike faith in her “little way,” both trusting God with the faith of a child, and accepting no limits in the ways she would ask for His help and grace in her life. This whole sequence expresses a key tenet of our faith: the idea of divine “sonship” – that each of us who can call God “Father” is in fact His sons and daughters… our whole faith could be summed up as a relationship between Father and child.
Third, Mark gives his account of the story of the rich young man who approaches Jesus, asking what he must do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus’ response dealing with the dangers of wealth (Mark 10:17-31). The young man’s question is about far more than just the future: in spite of his wealth and being a “good person,” he feels as though something is missing. When Jesus invites Him to discipleship, the man’s wealth is a barrier that prevents Him from both finding the fulfillment he seeks and from having a relationship with God. We ought to be aware of what “wealth” we have in our lives which we are willing to place above God: whether it is an actual possession, our reputation, a particular relationship or some other guilty pleasure. We need to ask ourselves whether these are worth sacrificing a relationship with Christ and eternal happiness for a fleeting experience. Life is short… eternity is very long.
For a third time, Jesus announces that He is going to be condemned and die (Mark 10:32-34) – and He surprises His apostles by walking straight into His passion. He gives us an example here that we ought to carry our crosses gladly -as He did- and not to avoid them.
Two of Jesus’ apostles, James and John Zebedee, make a bold request of Jesus (Mark 10:35-44), asking to sit on His right and left hand in the kingdom. They are asking for a position of prestige – and are even seem to be willing to accept whatever suffering it might cost to get there. While Jesus recognizes this, He explains to them – and to all the Apostles – the difference between earthly power and prestige and life in the Kingdom of Heaven. Heaven is not about “getting ahead” – it is about learning to love and serve others. John Paul II explains that for Christ, true dignity comes not from prestige, but in service:
“This dignity is expressed in readiness to serve, in keeping with the example of Christ, who ‘came not to be served but to serve.’ If, in the light of this attitude of Christ’s, ‘being a king’ is truly only possible by ‘being a servant’, then ‘being a servant demands so much spiritual maturity that it must really be described as ‘being a king.'”
Finally, we read of another miracle: this time, Jesus heals Bartimeus, a blind man in Jericho (Mark 10:46-52). Bartimeus, upon hearing that Jesus had come to his town cried out unabashedly: “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” No one could dissuade him from doing this… he called out, again and again, until he knew Jesus had heard him. And when Jesus called to him, Bartimeus threw off his coat and leapt to Jesus. He is willing to do what the young man earlier in this chapter was not: He casts aside even a necessary earthly attachment in anticipation of having His hopes fulfilled – and of having his sight (physical and spiritual) healed. It says that once Jesus made him well, Bartimeus followed Jesus on his way, since now he could see what He had wanted to see all along: the glory and answer to all the promises of God… Jesus Christ. It is a beautiful prayer to hope that we might do the same.