Pope Francis US Visit: Love and Joy Trump Rules (Mark 10: 2-18)
By Sr. Simone Campbell
I practiced family law in California for many years. I know the anguish of the breakup of a marriage. Often one spouse would come to me to try to untangle the legal mess of a marital relationship. What I noticed was how much ambivalence went into the process. So many wished that they could salvage the marriage but for a myriad of reasons it was not possible. Sometimes there were situations of domestic violence, impossible economic pressures and a host of other impossible hurdles. And more often than not, my clients felt judged and ostracized from their church and circle of friends. It was a lonely road to try to find a way beyond the harsh judgments.
The Mark 10 text is a challenging gospel in our society that has a high divorce rate. But I have a hunch that there is a deeper truth that Jesus was trying to get at. First the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus so Jesus responds by tweaking the Pharisees. The Pharisees were playing a game of "gotcha" where they could claim the high ground and discredit this revered teacher. Jesus says in that context that marriage is about love and unity, commitment and engagement. The Pharisees want Jesus to draw the clear bright line that all can easily judge. But life is not so simple.
It makes me think of Pope Francis and his recent visit to the United States. Some of our leaders wanted him to scold or chastise those who do not live the exact letter of the law. Some leaders wanted him to be all about the rules, the divides, the right and wrong. They, like the Pharisees, wanted to use law against people. They wanted to claim that they were right, but the "others" were wrong. Pope Francis, like Jesus, did not fall into this trap. It is the next section of today's scripture that shows us the real way forward.
Pope Francis, like Jesus, responds to the children. Pope Francis literally lit up every time he was in proximity to children. One story really touched my heart. I talked with Seanta who was visiting Philadelphia from South Carolina for the meeting on the family. On the parade route, she stood next to a family holding their baby. Much to her surprise, the Pope-mobile stopped by them and a security man asked the parents if he could take their baby to the Pope for a blessing. They quickly said a resounding yes! While they and everyone around them watched Pope Francis embrace this small child they all teared up. The Pope blessed this small baby and by extension blessed them. The security man gave her back to her parents who were in stunned silence. Seanta, in awe, asked if she could hold the baby for a just moment. Holding that small child, Seanta said that she felt that she had been blessed by extension just holding this baby. Don't we all want to be blessed by this innocence and hope? Jesus says that is what the reign of God is like.
During our recent Nuns on the Bus trip around the country, the 6th graders at St. Thomas Aquinas parish school in Indianapolis cooked dinner for us (with the help of their parents). I spoke with George and Sully about their 6th grade views of the needs that exist in their community. They were keenly aware that there are children who do not have enough to eat and are left out of many opportunities in our nation. They were concerned that some neighborhoods did not have a playground as good as theirs nor did they have a chance for science field trips. They told me that they thought our nation should do better by giving all children a chance to thrive. It's to these that the Kingdom of God belongs.
I believe that maybe these two seemingly disparate sections of scripture are put together because the first is about the rules and regulations and the second is about the reign of God that nourishes us all. We can get trapped like the Pharisees in judging others and ourselves. We can become scrupulous about rules and regulations. But these only lead to an accountant like sense of living the Gospel. We then think in comparisons about how much better am I than someone else.
Our lives are not ledgers. We are all called to live beyond the letter of the law. Jesus' challenge is to know that joy and eagerness of children. If we are to live the Gospel then we need to live with exuberance beyond the rules. Gospel living is the rough and tumble eagerness to be close to the vibrant life in our midst. This is what Jesus says is the core of the reign of God.
So let us be less preoccupied with the rigidity of rules and "gotcha" politics. Let us rather live wide eyed with curiosity and joy. Then Jesus can embrace us too and place his hands on us. For such is the kingdom of God.
_ A 23-year-old Reading native struggles to find stable work that will allow her to maintain her apartment and support her family. _
Bible Study Questions
1. How do rules and child like living intersect in your life and the life of your community?
2. How do you exhibit childlike curiosity about the divine in our midst?
3. When have you felt that feeling of "blessing" that Seanta felt in Philadelphia? When have you dispensed that sort of blessing?
For Further Reading
Campbell, Sr. Simone. A NUN ON THE BUS, How all of us can create Hope Change and Community, Harper Collins (2014) (Chapter 10)
Brueggemann, Walter, THE PROPHETIC IMAGINATION, Fortress Press, Second Edition, Minneapolis, MN, 2001.
Nolan, Albert, JESUS TODAY: A Spirituality of Radical Freedom, Orbis Press, Maryknoll, New York, 2007.
Sister Simone Campbell is the Executive Director of NETWORK.
Sister Simone Campbell has served as Executive Director of NETWORK since 2004. She is a religious leader, attorney and poet with extensive experience in public policy and advocacy for systemic change. In Washington, she lobbies on issues of peace-building, immigration reform, healthcare and economic justice. Around the country, she is a noted speaker and educator on these public policy issues.
During the 2010 congressional debate about healthcare reform, she wrote the famous "nuns' letter" supporting the reform bill and got 59 leaders of Catholic Sisters, including LCWR, to sign on. This action was cited by many as critically important in passing the Affordable Care Act. She was thanked by President Obama and invited to the ceremony celebrating its being signed into law.
In 2012, she was also instrumental in organizing the "Nuns on the Bus" tour of nine states to oppose the "Ryan Budget" approved by the House of Representatives. This budget would decimate programs meant to help people in need. "Nuns on the Bus" received an avalanche of attention across the nation from religious communities, elected officials and the media.
She has led three cross-country "Nuns on the Bus" trips, focused on economic justice, comprehensive immigration reform, and (most recently) voter turnout.
Simone has often been featured in the national and international media, including appearances on 60 Minutes, The Colbert Report, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
She has received numerous awards, including a "Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award" and the "Defender of Democracy Award" from the international Parliamentarians for Global Action. In addition, she has been the keynote or featured speaker at numerous large gatherings, including the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
Prior to coming to NETWORK, Simone served as the Executive Director of JERICHO, the California interfaith public policy organization that works like NETWORK to protect the interests of people living in poverty. Simone also participated in a delegation of religious leaders to Iraq in December 2002, just prior to the war, and was later (while at NETWORK) part of a Catholic Relief Services delegation to Lebanon and Syria to study the Iraqi refugee situation there.
Before JERICHO, Simone served as the general director of her religious community, the Sisters of Social Service. She was the leader of her Sisters in the United States, Mexico, Taiwan and the Philippines. In this capacity, she negotiated with government and religious leaders in each of these countries.
In 1978, Simone founded and served for 18 years as the lead attorney for the Community Law Center in Oakland, California. She served the family law and probate needs of the working poor of her county.
She is also the author of A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community, published in April 2014 by HarperCollins.
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