For the text of Matthew 19, click here.
The text begins with a fairly simple statement about travel, but then I looked at my map of the region and confused myself. I had previously bought this amazing book that had maps so I could visualize all the travel called Deluxe Then and Now Bible Maps. It’s pretty amazing. To get back on topic, though, the text itself didn’t make sense with where everything is located.
1Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan.
To get to Judea, Jesus would have to go through Samaria, down the Jordan River by boat, or cross it and go into another country before coming back across and into Judea. There was no portion of Judea that was beyond the Jordan, unless its an area further south of the Jordan and Jesus traveled all the way down by boat and moored in the Dead Sea.
I checked the study area of my Bible too and it suggested that they crossed the Jordan and then preceded south down a country called Perea where the country of Jordan is now. It also mentions that we’ll see that the Samaritan refused them access once we get into the book of Luke. The boat idea also doesn’t mesh with the second verse in the chapter, where crowds continue to follow Him and He continues to heal people.
So, across the Jordan River to Perea or Decapolis (both where Jordan is now), down to an area of Perea adjacent to Judea and back across the Jordan River to get to Judea.
When the Pharisees again come to Jesus to ask tricky questions, I have to wonder if the old Pharisees followed Him along with the people or is this a whole new set of Pharisees taking up where the others left off? This time the question is about divorce.
Jesus begins by asking if they’ve even read the old texts and then quotes them. I see where people get the argument from here against same sex marriage but I’m not 100% sure that’s the point. The point of the story is to reinforce that a marriage is God making two people into one inseparable union and divorce was only granted because of pressure from people, much like the reason they ever had a king in the first place. There is a clause in there for “sexual immorality” which is a really broad statement that can mean a whole slue of things. Unfortunately, this is one of those cases where the language also leaves us to wonder if this is a specifically male privilege or if this is just the way people talked, as so many things have appeared to be.
This is followed by a discussion on whether or not the disciples even should marry. I get that the wording suggests they were asking for everyone, but it felt to me that they were asking more for themselves. How would the faith continue if people stopped marrying and therefore stopped having sex and therefore stopped having babies?
The answer is that not everyone has the ability or fortitude to not marry, but those who do and who want to, should. The three categories of “eunuch” is interesting here too. The definition of eunuch is pretty simply a man who is castrated or someone is ineffectual, the second one I assume is a figurative definition. However, checking Wikipedia for a little more detail, includes the three categories that Jesus gives as well.
Eunuchs from birth must be people who are intersex or obviously sterile, people who can neither give birth nor get someone pregnant.
Eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men or who have made themselves eunuchs are both probably castrated by someone. This seems to have been done for several reasons by other people, but Jesus mentions those who did it to themselves as having done it “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven”.
He never says that people should or shouldn’t marry, though. Just this:
Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”
There’s a section where Jesus again acknowledges that children “belong to the kingdom of heaven”. These sections are so often quoted, and I get that there’s something about the trust and naivete of the world about children, but I think there’s more to it than that. It’s hard to use today’s children as an example but I have to wonder if there isn’t something about the way kids have tried to please their parents. I know a lot of American kids don’t really do that but I think it’s a modern phenomenon. I wonder if this isn’t about kid’s desire to please their parents and that the people of God should have a similar desire to do what pleases Him too.
From there we get to the story about a rich young man asking Jesus for advice on attaining eternal life. Jesus’s answer is interesting, especially because it’s given in two parts. The question is about attaining eternal life and this is the first thing Jesus says in response:
“Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”
Not “eternal” life, but life. Is there a difference? Not sure, but the rich man wants more detail and asks which ones.
“You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Those are 5 of the original 10 commandments plus love your neighbor which is explained in Leviticus 19:9-18. Most of the other commandments are about God. They are to have no other Gods before Him, to not worship or make graven images, to keep the Sabbath holy, and to not take His name in vain. The last of the original 10 is to not covet. Jesus leaves out not coveting and focuses solely on action here. Do these things. And the rich man insists that he does and asks what else?
To me, this is a next step. Think about it. If you’re already good at putting into practice these actions, what else can be done? And before you think that not doing these things are pretty easy, remember that honoring your parents is not doing something nice for God in their name (from chapter 15) and that there is a lot to loving your neighbor as yourself that does include leaving part of your income for the poor, not oppressing people, not talking crap about people and more. This is a difficult set of actions to abide by but this rich man says that he does and asks, what’s next?
The last answer saddens him, as I think it would for most people.
“If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
Perfect! We strive for perfect in so many ways in the US that it makes me wonder why this isn’t one of those things. Well, I guess some people do maybe but it’s not the same imperative as to look perfect all the time or to do our jobs perfectly. Honestly, we call ourselves a Christian country but don’t seem to follow most of what Jesus has been teaching anyway. I mean, to each their own, but let’s not call it what it isn’t.
Still, there are priests and nuns in the world who do exactly this. I had read Unquenchable Thirst a while back and it had some interesting insights in all the things that can be given to the poor and the gleanings that we shouldn’t waste too. We’re growing more systems to help with giving to the poor rather than wasting, which is a part of the love your neighbor imperative too, like food recovery places. Still, it’s hard to give up everything and I suppose even harder to follow Jesus. But this is the “what’s next?” answer, the “perfect” answer. We aren’t perfect and we don’t have to be, that’s supposed to be a part of what’s amazing about mercy and grace, right?
Plus, even if he wanted to do all that, he would still not be able to get started right away with following Jesus because, as mentioned, he had great possessions, and that would take a while to sell off. Jesus’s response does suggest that he was not sad about how long it was going to take to get back around to following Him.
After the man goes away, Jesus laments to the disciples about it being hard for rich people to get into heaven. He uses the phrase “eye of a needle” in regards to a camel getting through, which is a colloquialism for any narrow passage and not necessarily a literal needle. At this point, the disciples get concerned that this level of perfection means that people aren’t ever going to get into heaven and Jesus reassures them.
It’s not people and what we do and what we deserve that will get us there because God is the one that makes it possible. It also makes me think back to the story of the servant in the last chapter. There is no requirement for mercy from the person who can give it. It’s a choice they have to make.
Then they are worried about themselves, because they did just that, the perfect answer, and Jesus reassures them again, this time getting into what they will get in heaven.
“Truly, I say to you, in the new world,b when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfoldcand will inherit eternal life. 30But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
So, does this mean the existing 12 that at this point still includes Judas or the new 12 once they’ve replaced him? I suppose that’s a question for another life.
For downloadable study guides, click here.