If Jesus held a press conference, what question would you ask him? The disciples asked him lots of questions you and I might ask. When will be the time of your coming? Why do you speak in parables? Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven? The Pharisees also took the opportunity to ask him questions, but the questions they asked tell us more about the Pharisees than Jesus. Here’s a curious question they asked in Matthew 19. Tell us, they asked. When is it permissible for us to divorce our wives? Moses commanded us to write a bill of divorce if our wives displease us. What do you say?
Considerable debate surrounded that question among the Pharisees. One school, the school of Hillel, based upon a generous interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1 taught that a man could divorce his wife if he found any fault in her at all with her. She doesn’t show proper deference? Divorce! Burn the toast? Divorce! The school of Shammai took an alternative view, interpreting the word “indecency” in Deuteronomy 24:1 to mean a shameful act such as sexual immorality. It seems that neither school allowed a woman to divorce her husband if he committed similar transgressions, and that could be an interesting discussion in its own right. So the first thing we learn about the Pharisees is their lack of regard for women in abusive or unfaithful relationships. Here’s something else that we learn about them.
The so-called religious leaders seemed to be more interested in finding legal justification for breaking up marriages than in trying to save marriages. The real question to ask Jesus, assuming they really wanted an answer, might have been, “Moses allowed for the writing of a certificate of divorce, but we’re wondering what we should do to save our marriages.” That’s the question I would have liked to see Jesus answer, but it never occurred to the Pharisees to ask it. They just wanted to know how far they could go without technically sinning.
Do we really need to know any more about these guys than this? Jesus drilled them with the heart of the matter whether they wanted to hear it or not. "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives.” Hardness of hearts: Indeed that’s true. But remember, lest we become too harsh on the Pharisees, their question to Jesus is not a whole lot different than the questions some Christians ask today.