Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
“What did Moses command you?” he replied.
They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied.
“But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefor what God has joined together, let no one separate.” – Mark 10:2-9
uring Jesus’ ministry, the Pharisees were always seeking to trap him with his own words. They would ask him questions which they believed would expose him and derail his ministry.
In the above text, they questioned him about divorce. This question was somewhat loaded with a devious scheme. They wanted to place him in conflict with the Mosaic Law regarding divorce.
However, Jesus was ready for them. He knew both their intent and the correct response to their question. In responding, Jesus moved away from the legal perspective to their question.
In constitutional law, when legal minds in an Appeals Court attempting to adjudicate matters, they consider the intention of the framers of the law or the constitution. What was the intention of those who created this law? That is what Jesus did in his response to the Pharisees.
He knew what Moses intended. Moses had given the people permission to write a certificate of dismissal and divorce their wives because the people’s hearts were so hardened.
Even though the Mosaic law was legal, Jesus did not think that it was right. Therefore, he focused on God’s intention in the creation.
When he created man and woman, and instituted marriage, he intended that they stay together for life. Jesus said it was God’s intention that our relationships, especially marriage, be the kind that last forever. To Jesus, that was what mattered most.
The cause of divorce is rooted in the fall of man. Jesus tells the Pharisees that it was the hardness of hearts, sin, that Moses allowed them to divorce.
“This hardness of heart comes when we humans try to be God. This hardness of heart would presume, in the Pharisees or in us, to be able to earn its way into heaven. This hardness of heart lies at the root of the separation and alienation we feel in all our relationships. It goes into every relationship seeking only for itself.” [Augsburg Sermons, Gospel series ‘B” @ 1993 Augsburg Fortress, pg,. 204.]
“Because you and I are sinful creatures of a fallen creation, and because our primary relationship with our Creator is broken, we cannot alone overcome the hardness of our hearts or the separation that exists in all our relationships. Our own lawmakers, like Moses, have legalized that separation in many ways. But never have they said it was right, only legal.” [Augsburg Sermons, Gospel series ‘B” @ 1993 Augsburg Fortress, pg. 204.]
The response which Jesus gave was for the Pharisees, a group which was legalistic and not interested in believing his message. They believed that they could earn their way into heaven by keeping a tab on their righteous deeds.
Jesus’ explanation to the Pharisees just sailed past the disciples. They did not fully understand what he was saying. Consequently, when they were in the house, they asked him for an explanation.
Now, unlike his response to the legalistic Pharisees, he speaks to his disciples in simple terms: “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”
Matthew in his gospel writes: But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, caused her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matt. 5;31-32).
In taking on the Pharisees, Jesus brings the whole issue of divorce into play showing the equality of men and women. In the eyes of the Jews, only a man was permitted to divorce his wife. Women did not have any rights. But Jesus in his response includes both men and women. Jesus said God did not intend divorce for the man or the woman. Amen.
• Rev. Samuel M. Boodle, pastor at the Lutheran Church of Nassau, 119 John F. Kennedy Drive, can be reached at P.O. Box N 4794, Nassau, Bahamas; or telephone: 426-9084; E-mail: email@example.com; website: www.nassaulutheranchurch.org.