Jesus is getting closer and closer to Jerusalem. And as he gets closer to his death, he becomes even more ‚Äúin your face‚ÄĚ about the demands of discipleship.
We sometimes think of the Pharisees as the ‚Äúconservatives‚ÄĚ ‚Äď but in fact, first century Jewish groups don't fit the ‚Äúconservative/liberal‚ÄĚ labels.
Certainly on the question of divorce, the Pharisees were generally permissive. Ben Sira 25:26 says ‚ÄúIf she does not accept your control, divorce her and send her away.‚ÄĚ Josephus likewise says that he divorced his wife ‚Äúnot liking her behavior.‚ÄĚ Rabbi Akiba even said that a man could divorce his wife ‚Äúif he found another fairer than she.‚ÄĚ
There were a few who followed Rabbi Shammai. who restricted divorce to reasons of ‚Äúunchastity,‚ÄĚ but the majority opinion was the school of Hillel who permitted divorce for any cause.
And so the Pharisees ask Jesus to enter into the debate:
Jesus says that if you want to know what marriage is, look at Genesis 1-2. Divorce was only permitted because of the hardness of your hearts. Like the Pharisees, commentators have tried very hard ‚Äúto make Jesus mean something less inconvenient than his words mean at face value.‚ÄĚ (France, 388)
But Jesus means what he says. God's design for unbroken, lifelong marriage is not an ‚Äėideal' which we all admire but do not seriously expect to be implemented. It is ‚Äúthe realistic standard to which we are expected to conform and on which the health of human society depends.‚ÄĚ (France, 389)
This statement shocks the disciples, and so when they have him alone, they ask him again...