Jesus’ Life and Ministry
Lessons on Divorce and on Love for Children
JESUS and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem to attend the Passover of 33 C.E. They cross the Jordan River and take the route through the district of Perea. Jesus was in Perea a few weeks earlier, but then he was summoned to Judea because his friend Lazarus was sick. While then in Perea, Jesus spoke to the Pharisees about divorce, and now they bring the matter up again.
Among the Pharisees there are different schools of thought about divorce. Moses said that a woman could be divorced because of “something indecent on her part.” Some believe that this refers only to unchastity. But others consider “something indecent” to include very minor offenses. So, intent on tempting Jesus, the Pharisees ask: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on every sort of ground?” They are confident that whatever Jesus says will involve him in difficulty with Pharisees who hold a different view.
Jesus handles the question masterfully, not appealing to any human opinion, but referring back to the original design of marriage. “Did you not read,” he asks, “that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and will stick to his wife, and the two will be one flesh’? So that they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has yoked together let no man put apart.”
God’s original purpose, Jesus shows, is that marriage mates stick together, that they not get a divorce. If that is so, the Pharisees respond, “why, then, did Moses prescribe giving a certificate of dismissal and divorcing her?”
“Moses, out of regard for your hardheartedness, made the concession to you of divorcing your wives,” Jesus answers, “but such has not been the case from the beginning.” Yes, when God established the true standard for marriage in the garden of Eden, he made no provision for divorce.
Jesus goes on to tell the Pharisees: “I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except on the ground of fornication [Greek, por·neiʹa], and marries another commits adultery.” He thereby shows that por·neiʹa, which is gross sexual immorality, is the only ground approved by God for a divorce.
Realizing that marriage should be a lasting union with only this ground for divorce, the disciples are moved to say: “If such is the situation of a man with his wife, it is not advisable to marry.” There is no question that one who is contemplating marriage should seriously consider the permanence of the marital bond!
Jesus goes on to talk about singleness. He explains that some boys are born eunuchs, being incapable of marriage because of not developing sexually. Others have been made eunuchs by men, being cruelly disabled sexually. Finally, some suppress the desire to marry and to enjoy sex relations so that they can devote themselves more fully to matters relating to the Kingdom of the heavens. “Let him that can make room for [singleness] make room for it,” Jesus concludes.
People now begin to bring their young children to Jesus. The disciples, however, scold the children and try to send them away, no doubt wanting to protect Jesus from unnecessary stress. But Jesus says: “Let the young children come to me; do not try to stop them, for the kingdom of God belongs to suchlike ones. Truly I say to you, Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a young child will by no means enter into it.”
What fine lessons Jesus here provides! To receive God’s Kingdom, we must imitate the humility and teachableness of young children. But Jesus’ example also illustrates how important it is, especially for parents, to spend time with their children. Jesus now shows his love for little ones by taking them into his arms and blessing them. Matthew 19:1-15; Deuteronomy 24:1; Luke 16:18; Mark 10:1-16; Luke 18:15-17.
◆ What different views do the Pharisees have on divorce, and so how do they try to tempt Jesus?
◆ How does Jesus deal with the Pharisees’ effort to tempt him, and what does he give as the only ground for divorce?
◆ Why do Jesus’ disciples say it is not advisable to marry, and what recommendation does Jesus provide?
◆ What does Jesus teach us by his dealings with young children?