When Jesus is questioned about divorce he gives an answer that surprises the Pharisees. Not only do they not trap Jesus with their question but Jesus reveals a deeper issue that the Pharisees need to deal with; their hearts are hard.
Today we continue to read from the Gospel according to Mark. For the past three Sundays, we have been hearing Mark’s reports of conversations between Jesus and his disciples. Recall that in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus uses these private moments to teach his disciples in greater detail about the Kingdom of God. Beginning with today’s Gospel, Jesus returns to Judea, Jewish territory, and resumes his public ministry. The first verse of chapter 10 of Mark’s Gospel tells us that crowds gathered around Jesus, and he taught them, as was his custom. Immediately, the Pharisees approach Jesus to test him.
The Pharisees question Jesus about the lawfulness of divorce. Under specific conditions, divorce was an accepted practice among the Jewish people during the time of Jesus. It was regulated by the Law of Moses, as found in Deuteronomy 24:1-5. This law only permits that a husband may divorce his wife if he finds her to be indecent. This is the justification that the Pharisees reference when Jesus inquires about the commandment of Moses. In reply, Jesus quotes from the Book of Genesis and counters that God’s original intention was that men and women would become one flesh in marriage. Jesus describes the teaching of Moses as a concession made to God’s original intention because of human stubbornness.
In private, Jesus’ disciples question him further about this teaching on divorce. It is to his disciples that Jesus lays out the implications of his teaching by explaining that remarriage after divorce is adultery. Jesus’ teaching was more restrictive than the teaching of the Pharisees, which permitted remarriage. Jesus further distinguished his teaching from the cultural norms of his time by applying his words equally to men and women. Jewish culture permitted only that a husband may divorce his wife. Wives were not permitted to divorce their husband for any reason, including adultery.
At first glance, the final part of today’s Gospel seems unconnected to the previous teaching about divorce. When read together, however, these passages present a strong picture of Jesus’ emphasis on the importance of family. God intended for women and men to be joined together in marriage. Among the purposes of marriage is the raising of children. By welcoming children and fostering their relationship with God, parents and families bear witness to the Kingdom of God.
At the end of today’s Gospel, the people were bringing their children to Jesus, and again Jesus’ disciples show that they just don’t get it. Recall that in the Gospel for each of the past two Sundays, Jesus has taught his disciples the value and importance of these “little ones” in the Kingdom of God. Yet in today’s Gospel, the disciples try to prevent people from bringing their children to Jesus. Jesus reprimands his disciples and welcomes these children. Again Jesus offers these children as an example of the kind of complete trust and dependence upon God that ought to be the attitude of all believers.
Jesus’ teaching about divorce and remarriage can be a challenging one for many people. The Church continues to uphold the strong and positive teaching of Jesus that God intends for a man and woman to make a lifelong commitment to one another in the Sacrament of Marriage. Many of us, however, know people whose marriage has not been a lifelong commitment. The example of Jesus teaches us that we are called to act with compassion and love in our relationships with all, and especially when people are hurting because of difficulties in their relationships. Most importantly, we remember that when marriages thrive, it is a sign of God’s grace at work.
Gospel Mark 10:2-16 What God has united, man must not divide
Some Pharisees approached Jesus and asked, ‘Is it against the law for a man to divorce his wife?’ They were testing him. He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ ‘Moses allowed us’ they said ‘to draw up a writ of dismissal and so to divorce.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘It was because you were so unteachable that he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. This is why a man must leave father and mother, and the two become one body. They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide.’ Back in the house the disciples questioned him again about this, and he said to them, ‘The man who divorces his wife and marries another is guilty of adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another she is guilty of adultery too.’
People were bringing little children to him, for him to touch them. The disciples turned them away, but when Jesus saw this he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. I tell you solemnly, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ Then he put his arms round them, laid his hands on them and gave them his blessing.
Lord may I always remember your words that we are all loved by God and are all part of your family. Let us pray for all families whereever they are.