If any of us have been to a wedding lately it’s very likely we heard the same gospel passage we hear this Sunday: “…a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” It is so simple and yet so profound and so beautiful. It comes from one of the first scenes in the bible, a passage going back to the Garden-of-Eden days for Adam and Eve.
But more of that later. Let’s get back to the Gospel where we find some Pharisees standing before Jesus. The Pharisees were very educated in the ways of the Bible; they were admired for their knowledge and commitment to God’s word. But this time they have allowed their misgiving about Jesus to get the better of them; they want to test Jesus, hoping he makes a mistake in his answer. They are thinking that any slip-up on his part may discredit him before the people. But Jesus does not let them take him off course. Instead he steers them back to the ideal. He wants them to look at things the way God did at the beginning.
But let’s not be too harsh on the Pharisees in this reading. It is quite clear from the gospel that the Lord’s own disciples are struggling to stay focused on the ideal too. People are bringing their children to Jesus so he can place his hands on them and give them a blessing. This is one of the most cherished scenes in the Bible, often captured in paintings and stained-glass windows.
The disciples are not happy. They want to keep children away from Jesus. What possible motivation could they have for doing this? Do they assume Jesus is too important a figure to be bothered with children? They certainly do not see things the way Jesus does. Imagine their startled looks when Jesus gives them a rare display of anger and demands they let the children draw close. There is something they can learn from this.
Children gathered around the Lord is a good image for the kingdom of God. Jesus informs his disciples that if they do not accept the kingdom of God as a child does they will not enter the kingdom. And just how does a child accept the kingdom of God? We are probably on the right track if we think along the lines of trust and simplicity. Later in life, the apostle John will turn to this image to describe the relationship between the faithful and God. Think for example of his famous line, “See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” (1 John 3:1)
The first reading prepares us for the ideal Jesus upholds in the gospel. God has introduced all sorts of beautiful creatures to Adam to see what he will call them. But not one of them gets a name suggesting Adam has found a suitable partner. Then God presents Eve to Adam. Adam’s “at last” tells us the search is finally over. He calls her woman because she was taken out of man. She is clearly the ideal partner.
Another ideal comes our way in the second reading as the author of Hebrews describes what a gift Jesus is to us. He marvels at the thought that God “through whom all things exist… should make the leader to their salvation perfect through suffering.” For just a little while, he says, Jesus was made lower than the angels to walk through suffering just as we do and taste death as we do. Let’s allow the texts for this Sunday to inspire us with ideals and to draw closer to God.