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 Catch-22 situation.
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.