Lately I have been having some strange feelings that I think probably comes with age as well as with the reality of my mortality. Don’t get me wrong. It is not about being morbid or depressed or whatever. It is just a kind of feeling wishing every day is a “throwback Thursday” when I want to listen to old songs, see old friends and visit old places I have been to. It is like singing the Beatles’ “Get Back” over and over again because that is the actual direction we all take eventually in life: we get back to ourselves, back to our roots, back to everything and everyone, and most of all, back to God.
Jesus Himself in our gospel these past weeks has been going to the same direction. From Caesarea Philippi, He took a U-turn to go back to Jerusalem to fulfill His mission which is to get back the people to God. After identifying Himself as the Messiah, Jesus held special lessons about discipleship with the Twelve until they reached Capernaum the other Sunday where they stayed in a “house”. Today and next Sunday, Mark tells us how Jesus entertained some questions from the crowd that are very relevant even to our own time, divorce and how to gain eternal life. In both instances, Jesus would bring us all back to God the Father for the answers.
The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” They were testing him. He said to them in reply, “What did Moses command you?” They replied, Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.” But Jesus told them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, 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.” (Mk.10:2-9)
There we have it from the Lord Himself, loud and clear. Jesus wants us to go back to the very roots and cause of our relationships, God. More than the fidelity of husband and wife to each other, our gospel is reminding us to always see God as the foundation of the ties that bind us together as persons and communities. More than the law and human situation, Jesus went back farther to God as the ultimate root and origin of everything in this life in explaining divorce to the Pharisees. This explains why our first reading is taken from Genesis where it is shown how the sages of Old Testament reflected on the realities of life: that everything happened because God the Creator willed it so “in the beginning.” We came into being because of God, “male and female he created them.” Most of all, it is very clear that it is not man who caused God to create woman for she has always been a part of His plan because “it is not good for man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.” (Gen. 2:18) It is also God who is the reason why we get attracted and desire to enter into communion with others most especially in getting married. Our relationships in general and marriage in particular are a part of the grand design of God; we come together because of God. And we can only recover our original unity in God through man and woman, “that is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.” (Gen.2:24) Human relationships must be governed by God and not by humans. We also find in these short passages the beautiful vision of marriage and sexuality that drives man and woman toward union, not the impulse of a carnal and uncontrollable blind instinct.
So many things happen that mar and destroy our relationships. People change, even those in our family, in our circle of friends, and most especially with spouses. Without being simplistic about it, Jesus tells us that one reason for this is “the hardness of our hearts” when we are filled with ego, when we refuse to love. That imagery by the Lord of hardened hearts is timely as we venerate tomorrow the relic of the incorrupt heart of St. Padre Pio at UST. I am not surprised that St. Padre Pio’s heart has remained incorrupt with the holiness he had shown especially with the sick and the sinners that his heart must be so filled with love of God. A heart without love is a dead heart, a heart of stone that is hard and selfish. And this is why I am not also surprised at all when arrogant creatures like politicians caught on camera shamelessly demeaning people later complained of chest pains after going viral in social media. They are like the Pharisees with hardened hearts.
A good friend recently wrote in his blog a beautiful reflection about the South African term “Ubuntu” that is very appropriate for us today as we experience divisions due to politics (https://relativejoyforyou.wordpress.com/2018/10/05/ubuntu/). Ubuntu is the belief that we are defined by our compassion and kindness towards others. According to my friend, there can be many other ways of defining or describing “Ubuntu” which I believe also rests on God being the very root and foundation of our relationships. I recalled his blog as I prayed on our gospel this Sunday, especially that part when “in the house the disciples questioned Jesus about this.” (Mk.10:10) I wish to direct your attention more to that going back in the house where they were staying which is for me an imagery of Jesus bringing back the Twelve into the very heart of God to explain the evils men do to destroy our wonderful ties and relationships. And for the second time in three weeks, Jesus again would call children to tell the Twelve that “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” (Mk.10:14-15)
Ubuntu is also a call to go back to our being children. Two Sundays ago we reflected that the way we relate with children and women reflects our true relationship with God. After explaining the nature of our relationships being rooted in God, Jesus “inside the house” again showed that the children embody the reality of our communion because only they can show true kindness and compassion, love and trust with one another. Children have that unique gift of being “aware” of our single origin and unity in God. By embracing children, Jesus is again inviting us to go back to the pristine image of holiness, of oneness with God and with others when we regard everyone as “brothers and sisters” in Christ. (Heb.2:11) AMEN. Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan 3022
Photo by Fr. Nick f. Lalog II, Wailing Wall of Jerusalem, April 2017.