Mark 10: 2-16
2 To set a trap for him, some Pharisees went to Jesus to question him, asking him if it was lawful to divorce his wife. 3 In his answer, Jesus said to them, "What rules did Moses give you?" 4 They replied, "Moses gave us permission to write a divorce certificate." 5 Jesus then said to them, "It is because you are hard-hearted that Moses gave you this rule. 6 Yet, at the creation of the universe, God made human beings male and female. 7 It is exactly for this reason that a man will leave his father and mother to be united with his wife. 8 The two become one; they are no longer two beings, but one. 9 Thus, let not human beings go and divide what God has joined together. 10 When the disciples got home, they began to ask him about it. 11 Jesus said, "If a man divorces his wife and marries another, he commits adultery against her. 12 And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery. 13 Afterward, some people brought little children to Jesus to touch, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was outraged at the attitude of his disciples and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not hinder them. For it is to such as these that the domain of God belongs. 15 Truly I assure you, whoever does not welcome the domain of God as a child has no access to it. 16 When he had embraced them in his arms, he began to bless them by putting his hands on them.
A totally new look
Gospel commentary - Homily
The story1 that I want to tell may create discomfort in some religious circles, but it reflects a profound reality. His name is John. From the age of three, he knows that he is attracted to boys, he knows that he is homosexual. But because he lives in a small community in French Canada, everything is repressed. It was when he went to Paris at the age of 20 on a theater scholarship that he could really express himself, and so he made a friend he liked. But the bond doesn't survive with John's return to Canada. In the midst of his heartbreak, John tries to believe he is heterosexual, gets engaged, and a wedding date is set. Having become a hairdresser, a client tells him upon hearing the news, "Are you crazy, you? You're going to make a woman miserable for the rest of your life. The wedding is cancelled, but no one knows the real reason for the cancellation, until John returns home one Christmas Eve: parents with aunts and uncles were waiting for him in dismay after discovering all the love letters he had sent to his friend Charles in Paris. John left the family environment with a bang.
Some time later, at a party at a friend's house, John meets Gerard, a handsome German of his own age who had fled his country during the Second World War by refusing to take up arms. It's mutual love at first sight. They decide to move in together. But in the repressive environment of the time it is difficult, especially for John, who asks Gerard never to answer the phone, so that no one would know he was living with a man. So what a thrill to discover the more open environment of Germany when he went there with Gerard to be introduced to his mother, who had had ten children and who immediately adopted him, and who said to him when he left: "Take good care of him". It was during a vacation in Mexico that they met Estefan, a 5 year old boy who had fled a poor and violent environment and who had come to take refuge in their home and did not want to leave. With the parents' agreement, Estefan comes to live with John and Gerard who, for twelve years, will look after him like a son and will take care of his education, making sure that he returns to visit his Mexican parents every year. In the meantime, they became antique dealers in a small town in Quebec. Today, at 90 years old, their love is stronger than ever. Unfortunately, illness separates them geographically: John, who can no longer walk, is in a long-term care facility, and Gerard has joined a facility for those suffering from Alzheimer's. But they talk every day, and once a week friends bring Gerard to visit John so they can continue to express their affection.
Such a context, I think, is appropriate to enter into these two Gospel stories around the issue of divorce and the place of children. At first glance one might say, but what relationship may be with all these stories? The first story is about the woman whom a man could repudiate for any reason, including that she overcooked the meal or that the man found a more beautiful woman. The second story concerns a small child who is denied access to Jesus by the disciples, a likely echo of discussions in the early community of children's access to the community, and thus to baptism. Both women and children were considered in Palestinian society as minors, as beings without social value. And I would like to make the connection with the ostracized beings that are those born with a different sexual orientation from the majority.
What is Jesus' position? According to him, for a man to expel a woman as he pleases is a hard-heartedness, not only a lack of compassion, but a total misunderstanding of the world God has created and what he wants for it. In the same way, to refuse the full integration of those who had no place in society, little children and babies, is a total lack of understanding of this world that God wants to offer, because this world presupposes that one accepts that life and love are totally free, and that one also accepts to let oneself be transformed to the end by them, something that a child can understand and that Jesus proposes as a model; how difficult it is for an adult to live with a heart that is new and open to the world, in the image of Gerard's mother.
What led Jesus to this position? He refers us to the creation story in the book of Genesis which states that human beings were created male and female, so man and woman are equal beings. Their differences are not an obstacle, but a complementarity. To this justification of Jesus Mark adds this beautiful text from Genesis: "The man will be joined to his wife and the two will become one flesh"; then he repeats the affirmation that these two beings will become one. Is this not the greatest project for our humanity, to become one being in the midst of our differences? Is it not the same project that people who are born with a different sexual orientation than the majority carry? This project is impossible without the new heart of a child.
Unfortunately, Jesus' prophetic word not to separate what God has joined together, a word in line with his mission to bring our humanity together, can be obscured by all the casuistry of marriage. So Mark ends his account of divorce by inserting the legislation in force around 60 AD, legislation that he is careful to say came from his Roman community by introducing it with the mention that we are at home, a symbol of the early church, and that it came from the disciples who questioned Jesus, a symbol of the thinking going on in the Christian community: "If a man divorces his wife... if a woman divorces her husband...". The role of Jesus as a prophet is to present a path, it will be the role of pastors and jurists to determine what to do if one fails on this path. For example, Paul will allow separation and remarriage in the case of a conflict with an unbelieving spouse. Matthew will do the same in the case of sexual immorality according to the standards of his day.
It is difficult to look at our humanity with the same outlook as Jesus, an outlook that is that of God himself. This outlook knows how to discover all the value of what society puts on the margins, as Palestine society did with the woman and the children. Ours is often old, constantly creating compartments and distance. If only we borrowed his childlike outlook, we would witness the morning of the world, marching towards a single being.
-André Gilbert, Gatineau, August 2021
1 For the whole narrative of this true story, see Rima Elkouri, La Presse, February 14, 2017