Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast 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 separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”
(Matthew 19:1-12 ESV)
Traditionally, Judea and Israel ended on the East side at the Jordan River. When we read that Jesus was teaching beyond the Jordan, it again becomes clear that Jesus’ mass ministry to crowds definitely included people not from a Jewish background. A large part of his teaching took place in Galilee of the Gentiles, a pluralist area. Jesus taught and healed in Samaria, dominated by a kind of “half-breed” Judaism that so separated the Samaritans from the Jews that the two peoples had little to do with one another. And here is Jesus teaching on the East Bank of the Jordan, with great crowds attending.
The Pharisees were there as well. There seems to have been a Pharisee presence no matter where Jesus went. It is clear that they were testing him, but we also know that some of the Pharisees came to believe in him (heh…figures). In any case, the Pharisees, the Scribes, the Sadducees were definitely out of their jurisdiction East of the Jordan. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as any surprise to us that Jesus takes this opportunity to “heal them there.”
Heal? Heal the Pharisees? Jesus was healing the crowds.
In the middle paragraph above, Jesus is clearly offering healing to their hearts. It can’t be a stretch to imagine that here were some Pharisees who were hoping that Jesus might be the Messiah, and among them might have been some who were in unhappy marriages. You know, it isn’t just the 20th and 21st centuries that have produced difficult unions. And here they are bucking the tide of popular teaching that says if you don’t like her that much, get rid of her. Jesus is clear: if you divorce your wife it is merely because of your hardness of heart. Just because you can divorce her doesn’t mean that is what is good. Be healed in your marriage! If you divorce her, you’ll never be healed in this area.
In the final paragraph Jesus takes the whole idea of healing to a completely different level. There are many ways in which a man can become sexually disabled. Some are born unable to get a woman pregnant. Something just doesn’t work. Others have been made unable either because of surgery or accident, or simply because, over time, the equipment doesn’t function any longer. It is the final category, men who do not engage in sexual relations “for the sake of the kingdom” – these men are fully able to have sex, but for some reason they are choosing not to. You and your wife may have a tough relationship; one that needs substantial healing. But for the sake of the kingdom, guys, be celibate outside of marriage. There’s no healing in having an affair.
Here is Jesus speaking to two groups of men – real men with real desires – who both are at risk of leaving their wives and taking up with other women. Some are at risk of divorce. Some are at risk of infidelity. And there, beyond the Jordan, Jesus healed them.