The Gospels in 40 days Matthew 19

Matthew 19

Divorce: Beliefs about divorce were quite varied in first century Judaism. Sadducees interpreted divorce laws in the Old Testament quite loosely: for some the ‘failing’ in their wife could be as small as her cooking skills. Some more strict sects believed that only improper marriages could be dissolved: so if you found out that your wife was a long lost sister, the marriage was invalid and divorce was permitted.  

The Pharisees were actually closest to Jesus’ teaching on this one. They believed that only adultery could end a marriage. However, they wondered why God wasn’t clearer about this? Why did he command divorce?

Jesus declares that God was not commanding divorce but regulating and limiting an existing behavior. By giving his ex-wife a certificate of divorce the husband was prevented from accusing his ex of adultery when she remarried. Jesus says that the husband himself was, in God’s eyes, committing adultery if he threw out his first wife for no good reason and married another.

There still is today some debate about the interpretation of the greek word πορνεία‘porneia’ here. (You may recognize it as the root of pornography). In the context of marital unfaithfulness almost all Christians have accepted that things like emotional and physical abuse fall within the scope of Jesus’ intent.

Marriage: How ever you slice it, Jesus places a very high value on marriage, and a high demand on the married. But He, the Lord God, did permit (not command) it in some circumstances. He also forgives it when someone recognises their fault in the matter and repents.

The disciples realize that living up to this standard is not for everyone! Christ affirms that those who do not marry, living celibate lives for His sake are fulfilling his call as well.

Children: again the disciples don’t get how important children are to Jesus. Remember that the Gospel is not all about learning and understanding: it is receiving a gift from God. Children who believe they are loved and welcome in God’s presence will certainly grow and learn even more that we who started late! But they are already precious to him. And they will believe this as much as God’s representatives demonstrate it to them.

A Rich Young Ruler: I’ve noticed that almost everyone who says they obey the ten commandments focus on the last five: do not murder, steal, lie, etc. Jesus is being gentle here, by affirming the good in what he knows the young man can say ‘yes’ to. And building on that foundation, he calls him to the “other half’ of the ten: putting God first. In this case the young man worships wealth, security and comfort alongside God. But, if he wants to be living well, he must “have no other gods” before the Lord. Even the disciples find this intimidating, when it is put this way. But Jesus insists that by God’s power we can be released from our reliance on crutches like money, popularity and power. There is a great gift of freedom for those who allow God to do this in them.