Pharisees came up and in order to test [Jesus] 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 divorce, and to put her away." But Jesus said to them, "For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 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. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder."
In today’s gospel, the Pharisees came to test Jesus with a very difficult question. Divorce was epidemic in those days; it had become a serious problem. It had come to the point that many divorces had no grounds at all. So they came asking Jesus to take a stand on a hot-button issue. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” they said.
Now there were two different rabbinical schools of thought about the legitimate grounds for divorce, so they were probably asking him to take sides or setting him up for criticism. The Hillel school basically argued for no-fault divorce--that most anything could be deemed just grounds (this view became dominant in Jewish thought). In contrast, the Shammai school argued that divorce was only acceptable in the case of very serious transgressions. We should also note that in Judaism (even today) a man divorces a woman; a woman cannot divorce a man.
Jesus basically tells them they ought to know the answer. What did Moses say? Write out a certificate of divorce. Notice that every time that they came to Jesus asking about something in the Torah, he always did two things: he made the application more strict than it had become and he directed them back to God’s purpose in the first place. You might think that after awhile they would have stopped asking.
Jesus does the same thing here. Our Lord explained that Moses allowed you to divorce because he knew that your hearts were hard and cruel, but that’s not how God planned it in the beginning. God made the man and woman for each other; that’s why they come together as husband and wife. So what God has joined together, let no man tear apart.
In the next few verses following our reading, back at the house in private, the disciples ask Jesus to clarify the matter. Did he really mean to be so strict? And Jesus basically tells them that remarriage is adulterous. In the parallel text in Matthew they are despondent, saying, "Maybe it’s better not to marry." But that’s not what Jesus was trying to say either.
Jesus is calling us back to God’s will from the very beginning. We have a tendency to turn the exception into the rule. We did it in Jesus’ day and we have done it in our own day. And God wants us to look beyond the exceptions to the ideal—to the way it was supposed to be in the beginning which means, before sin came along and messed it up.
Jesus wants a godly harvest in our homes. Why is God so protective of marriage and the family? For two main reasons: first, Paul tells us marriage is a great mystery (sacramentum in Latin) of the union between Christ and his bride, the church. God is betrothed to his people. That’s why idolatry is like adultery. That’s why in the book of Revelation, heaven is pictured as a great wedding banquet—with the bride (the church) ready to meet her bridegroom (Christ).
Second, God is protective of the family because we are adopted into God’s family. When we are baptized, we are joined to Christ, and so we can call God Father. In Hebrews we heard how Jesus took human nature to make us part of God’s family. God warns us to flee from anything that would endanger the family. We care about our own families, wouldn’t God be protective of his?