Monday, December 21, 2009

Reflections on Matthew 19

    Matthew 19 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. When Jesus finished teaching, he left Galilee and went to the part of Judea that is east of the Jordan River.
  2. Large crowds followed him, and he healed their sick people.
  3. Some Pharisees wanted to test Jesus. They came up to him and asked, "Is it right for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?"
  4. Jesus answered, "Don't you know that in the beginning the Creator made a man and a woman?
  5. That's why a man leaves his father and mother and gets married. He becomes like one person with his wife.
  6. Then they are no longer two people, but one. And no one should separate a couple that God has joined together."
  7. The Pharisees asked Jesus, "Why did Moses say that a man could write out divorce papers and send his wife away?"
  8. Jesus replied, "You are so heartless! That's why Moses allowed you to divorce your wife. But from the beginning God did not intend it to be that way.
  9. I say that if your wife has not committed some terrible sexual sin, you must not divorce her to marry someone else. If you do, you are unfaithful."
  10. The disciples said, "If that's how it is between a man and a woman, it's better not to get married."
  11. Jesus told them, "Only those people who have been given the gift of staying single can accept this teaching.
  12. Some people are unable to marry because of birth defects or because of what someone has done to their bodies. Others stay single for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Anyone who can accept this teaching should do so."
  13. Some people brought their children to Jesus, so that he could place his hands on them and pray for them. His disciples told the people to stop bothering him.
  14. But Jesus said, "Let the children come to me, and don't try to stop them! People who are like these children belong to God's kingdom."
  15. After Jesus had placed his hands on the children, he left.
  16. A man came to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to have eternal life?"
  17. Jesus said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? Only God is good. If you want to have eternal life, you must obey his commandments."
  18. "Which ones?" the man asked. Jesus answered, "Do not murder. Be faithful in marriage. Do not steal. Do not tell lies about others.
  19. Respect your father and mother. And love others as much as you love yourself."
  20. The young man said, "I have obeyed all of these. What else must I do?"
  21. Jesus replied, "If you want to be perfect, go sell everything you own! Give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come and be my follower."
  22. When the young man heard this, he was sad, because he was very rich.
  23. Jesus said to his disciples, "It's terribly hard for rich people to get into the kingdom of heaven!
  24. In fact, it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into God's kingdom."
  25. When the disciples heard this, they were greatly surprised and asked, "How can anyone ever be saved?"
  26. Jesus looked straight at them and said, "There are some things that people cannot do, but God can do anything."
  27. Peter replied, "Remember, we have left everything to be your followers! What will we get?"
  28. Jesus answered: Yes, all of you have become my followers. And so in the future world, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, I promise that you will sit on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel.
  29. All who have given up home or brothers and sisters or father and mother or children or land for me will be given a hundred times as much. They will also have eternal life.
  30. But many who are now first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

Jesus continues, in this chapter, to strip away religion and present the essentials of God's kingdom. Religion is really just the external trappings around which man cloaks his efforts to approach God. As commendable as this might seem, it defines how we come to God on man's terms rather than God's, and it is only on God's terms that it is even possible to approach Him. Jesus points to this in His conversation with His disciples about the rich, in verses 23-26 of this chapter. First Jesus made it clear that man's terms for coming to God are insufficient, saying "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." This flew in the face of the teachings of the Pharisees who taught that God bestows wealth on those He loves. According to this teaching, wealth was a sign that one had already gained entrance into God's kingdom. This is man's teaching, not God's. It is an example of how religion becomes defined by man's desire to wrap up the things he covets into the essentials of his religion. But Jesus told His disciples that it is impossible to come to God on man's terms, such as with wealth. This, I believe is His message when He said, "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." But Jesus went on to say, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." Only God can make it possible for man to enter His kingdom.

Entry into God's kingdom is really very simple. Difficult, but simple. This is why so many miss it. It is too simple and doesn't make sense to them. But children understand the simplicity of it. In fact, when Jesus' disciples tried to turn people away from bringing children to Jesus, Jesus told them, "the kingdom of heaven is made up of people like this." That is, like the children. They have no pretense, no ability of their own they might claim to earn their way into the kingdom. They simply place themselves at God's mercy as any of us must do. Neither wealth nor power will gain us even a foothold in God's kingdom. Nor do we have any deeds good enough or accomplishments great enough to warrant entry. All we can do is to give ourselves to God, place ourselves at His mercy, and let Him bestow on us this citizenship in His kingdom.

There is nothing complicated about this, but we should not confuse simple with easy. What it requires is giving up our dependence on everything else in life, including, "houses, brothers or sisters, father or mother, children, or fields." Though God may give all these back to us for our enjoyment, we must first turn loose of them and come to God with nothing we claim as our own. Jesus knew that for the rich young man who came asking about eternal life, wealth was more important to him than God or eternal life. That is why He told the man to "go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me." It is not the selling of the man's belongings, however, that would gain him treasure in heaven, but the giving of himself to God rather than to these belongings.

One last comment. In this chapter, Jesus also stripped away religious teaching concerning marriage. As a matter of convenience and because of the "hardness of their hearts," men had, over time added their own teachings to God's intention so that it was permitted for a man to divorce his wife for any reason. Jesus stripped all this away and took them back to God's intention for marriage. He told the Pharisees who tried to test Him, and everyone else who was present, that "He who created them in the beginning made them male and female, . . . For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, man must not separate." This passage is often included in marriage ceremonies today, but is not as frequently observed following the wedding. Whatever interpretations man may wish to give to scripture concerning marriage and divorce, one thing is clear, God's intention for marriage is that it be for a lifetime. I will add, however, though divorce is not God's intent, it is not the unforgivable sin that many seem to make of it.

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