A homily given by Sr Maeve McMahon O.P
Gardener Street, Dublin on October 7th
Have you ever experienced someone asking you a question that wasn’t sincere? You felt you were being put on the spot. You didn’t feel good about it.
The Gospel today opens with Jesus being put on the spot by the Pharisees, the Jewish religious teachers. Mark tells us that they tested Jesus by asking Him, “Is it against the law for a man to divorce his wife?”
They knew what they were doing! They had been scheming for some time to entrap him, to do away with him. This was the perfect place- under Herod Antipas’ jurisdiction – the Jewish ruler was having an affair with his brother’s wife and when John the Baptist denounced him for it, Herod threw John in prison. Maybe Jesus would suffer a similar fate.
Divorce was a thorny issue. Jesus was sure to displease some section of the Jews. Rabbi Shammai’s followers demanded a very serious pretext for divorce but the followers of Rabbi Hillel accepted trivial grounds, such as bad cooking. Another aspect was that Jesus had debunked the laws about fasting and the Sabbath observances so if he were to give the appearance of disregarding the sacred teaching about marriage then, the Pharisees believed they could turn many of the people against him.
Jesus knew their wily ways and their hard hearts so he turned the tables on them by asking, “What did Moses command you? “ and when they answered that Moses permitted a man to draw up a writ of dismissal against his wife, Jesus told them that this was because they were unteachable. The bottom line was, “What God has united man must not divide.” In this, he connected with the Old Testament teaching that we heard in the first reading from the Book of Genesis where the Lord God said that it was not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helpmate……. A man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to his wife and they become one body.”
For the Pharisees, for the disciples and for us, Jesus held up the ideal of marriage. The reflection of God’s faithful love for us.
However, human nature being what it is, divorce happens and men and women can suffer heartbreak on a long, lonely path. Where does that leave them in relation to Jesus? Well, we know that Jesus showed great kindness towards the Samaritan woman who had seven husbands and most especially towards the woman caught in adultery. Her punishment according to the law was to be stoned to death. The Pharisees brought her to Jesus and their stones were already in piles when he began to write in the sand and said. “Let whomever has not sinned cast the first stone.” One by one they slipped away leaving Jesus alone with the woman. “I will not condemn you,” he told the terrified woman. Jesus’ kindness!
I believe that Mark put the incident about Jesus and the children straight after Jesus’ teaching about marriage to show us the importance of kindness in our relationships. We’re told that Jesus chastised the disciples for sending the children away and drew them close to him by putting his arms around them, laying his hands on them and giving them his blessing. He was kind to them.
You know, it can take a crisis or a catastrophe to help us to see what’s important in life. I had lived inNew Orleansfor 27 years before Hurricane Katrina and like thousands of others I spent months in evacuation centres after the Hurricane. I witnessed unbelievable suffering. My life was turned upside down but what stood out for me then and now, seven years later – is human kindness- the milk of human kindness. There’s so much meaning in that expression “the milk of human kindness.” I’m now convinced that marriages and indeed all relationships are nourished daily by little acts of kindness. How important it is to be consciously kind.
I found a poem after the hurricane that captured what I had discovered about the importance of kindness. It was written by Naomi Shihab Nye, a woman whose father was fromPalestineand whose mother was American. Her poem is entitled: KINDNESS.
Before you know what kindness really is
You must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment
Like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
What you counted and carefully saved,
All this must go so you know
How desolate the landscape can be
Between the regions of kindness.………..
Before you know kindness
as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow
as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness
that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day
to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.