And Pharisees came up and in order to test him 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.” And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And 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.” And they were bringing children to him, that he might touch them; and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it he was indignant, and said to them, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands upon them.
The Pharisees attempt to lay a trap for Jesus as part of their efforts to destroy him. They anticipate that Jesus will deny the legal right to divorce, thus putting him at odds with Herod Antipas and his mistress, Herodias, who had abandoned their respective spouses to be with each other. They hoped to inflict upon Jesus the same fate that befell St. John the Baptist, who was beheaded for denouncing their union as unlawful.
Under the Deuteronomic Covenant delivered on the plains of Moab (Deut. 1:1-5; 29:1) Moses permitted divorce as a temporary legal concession tailored to the weakness of Israel, a concession not originally granted in the Levitical Covenant ratified 40 years earlier on Mt. Sinai (Exod. 19-24). Jesus now revokes the Mosaic concession and cites Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 as evidencing God’s original intention that marriage be a life-long union between one man and one woman. This marital bond is forged by God himself and cannot be broken by any civil or religious authority. To divorce and remarry is to commit adultery, a warning Jesus directs to both spouses.
After giving his teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, Jesus blesses the children. The Jews were accustomed to present their children to men of holiness for their blessing. Children are the fruit of married love and God intends them to be raised and blessed in the security of a stable and healthy family environment. Jesus praises child-like qualities and declares, “to such belongs the Kingdom of God.” As St. John Chrysostom notes (Homily on Matthew 62), the mind of a child is free of passions and naturally tends to the good. Those who wish to belong to God in this life and enter the Kingdom of the Blessed hereafter should by free choice cultivate the humility, candor, innocence, etc of children, and must accept, like little children, all the teachings of Christ.
Director, Religious Education and Evangelisation