Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus
they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What
did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate
of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your
hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 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, let no one separate.” Then in the house the disciples asked him again
about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries
another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and
marries another, she commits adultery.” People were bringing little children to
him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them.
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. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom
of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms,
laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
The background of today’s gospel reading
is first of all the motive of the Pharisees who posted the question about
divorce to Jesus. In their role as opponents of Jesus, they wanted to test
Jesus. But why they tested him with this question of divorce? It was because
divorce was practiced among them to a limited degree ever since the time of
Moses, who was their great law giver. They wanted to know Jesus’ answer to this
question. If his answer was positive, they would see him just another prophet
who was less than Moses because he followed what Moses had said. If Jesus’
answer was negative, they could claim him committing blasphemy because the law
was given by God through Moses. In other words, they tried to put Jesus into a
It should be noted that although the
dispensations from the law of divorce forced from Moses by the laxity and
worldliness of the Jews, there were huge disputes among the rabbis at the time
as to what excuse would be sufficient for a man to divorce his wife. These
disputes were caused by the conditions laid down by Moses in Deuteronomy 24:4
seemed to be vogue.
When cited the authority of Moses in the
matter of divorce, Jesus answered them that the exception was allowed by Moses
from God’s original law was forced from him by the stubbornness and
unwillingness of the Jews to keep the law of God in its entirety.
To prove his statement, Jesus cited the
Genesis that God intended marriage to be indissoluble because it is a union
between one man and one woman that “God has joined together, let not man put asunder.
His answer to the Pharisees could not have been clearer or more definite.
As was usual with the disciples, when
they were away from the crowds, they began to question Jesus. Apart from
explaining why a man commits adultery against his wife when he divorces her and
married another, Jesus added that the same is true of a wife who divorced her
real husband and unites herself with to a second man. This second statement is
interesting because a Jewish woman could not divorce her husband, it was the
husband’s privilege. St. Mark inserted this statement here because he was
writing for Gentile Christians and it was in Roman law that the wife as well as
the husband could sue for divorce.
God’s plan for marriage was
that of a man and woman “become one flesh.” This teaching calls each one of us
to live out our own vocation in life as fully as possible.
The last four verses of today’s
gospel describe an incident which is in no way connected with the previous discussion
but which has a very useful lesson for all Christians.
It describes Christ’s love for
children and while manifesting this love he stresses the need for all his true
followers to be childlike. “I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom
of God like a child shall not enter it.” To receive the kingdom of God is to
accept the teaching of Christ and live according to it in his kingdom on earth.
He who does this will enter, after death, into the eternal kingdom of heaven.
Christ says, however, that we must accept “like a child”: his kingdom on earth,
his teaching and the Church he founded to carry on that teaching. It does not
mean in a childish way is an unthinking and uneducated way, but in a child-like
way that is a humble, grateful and receptive way.
God is surely not asking too
much of us when he asks us to live our Christian faith in childlike humility,
candour and confidence during the days of our pilgrimage on this earth. Amen.