“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 hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.”
– Matthew 19:29
Jesus has now left his native region of Galilee and is beginning his trek to Jerusalem where he will ultimately suffer death on the cross and rise again. As Jesus continues to teach the crowds and his disciples, he focuses on two things that are damaging to the body of Christ: divorce and greed.
Jesus had already taught about the harmfulness of divorce in his Sermon on the Mount (). The Pharisees’ question is based on a controversy about how is to be interpreted. Some believed a man could divorce a woman for any reason while others believed it was only permissible because of sexual immorality.
The Pharisees’ question seems to by trying to justify divorce. They were testing Jesus to see how he would answer. Would he allow anyone to divorce? Would he be strict on no divorce? Jesus answers their question by going back to the principle of marriage. It is to be between a man and a woman and is a one flesh union that cannot be separated. By becoming one flesh, a husband and wife share an intimate bond that no other human can share in. In reality, this union cannot be separated. Two people have already entered into the one flesh union. For it to be separated is what Jesus calls adultery.
The Pharisees rebuttal by asking why Moses would allow divorce in Deuteronomy. Jesus explains that it was because of the sinfulness of the people of Israel and the hardness of their hearts. It is not what God ever intended for the marriage union. A person commits adultery by separating this union. The only exception to this is if one partner of the union is sexually immoral. The divorce would then be justified.
The disciples’ response to this teaching brings Jesus to another point. The disciples said that it would be better not to marry than to risk being an adulterer. Jesus says, however, that this is not meant for everyone. Celibacy is the act of not marrying or having sex. Celibacy is different from abstinence. Abstinence is not having sex until marriage – celibacy is usually life-long. Jesus said that this is not meant for everyone, but only for those that have been gifted with celibacy. Jesus says that some are gifted to remain celibate for the sake of the kingdom. These people can focus their time and talents on building the kingdom of God. Those who are able to receive this are encouraged to receive it.
Marriage is a hot-button issue right now. Divorce rates are extremely high, even among Christians, and people are attempting to redefine the marriage union as something it is not. As Christians, we must continue to hold up the sanctity of marriage as between one man and one woman in a one flesh union, but we must also reach out to those who may not agree with what the Bible teaches. We must live in this tension, but we must uphold orthodox Christian theology.
Children are, in a way, the fruit of the marriage union between a man and woman. These are physical reminders of the one flesh nature of a husband and wife. Jesus wants the children to come to him because they are precious to him. As he said in , anyone who wishes to enter the kingdom must humble themselves and be like a child. They must utterly rely on God for everything.
A man came to Jesus and asked him what he needed to do in order to gain eternal life. The man simply wanted to know what was required of him. The problem with this man’s question is that he was asking about what he must do. Jesus turns him away from a works-based salvation in when he points out that he should not be asking about what is good – rather, he should be looking to the one who is good. He instructs him to keep the commandments. When the man asks which ones are most important, Jesus replies with five of the Ten Commandments and one over-arching command. The over-arching command is that we should love our neighbor as ourself – it is often considered the capstone of the Mosaic law (). Out of the moral commands in the Ten Commandments, there is one that Jesus left out – you shall not covet.
Jesus knew that this man had wealth and that he was deeply attached to his wealth. He tells the man to go and sell all he has and give it to the poor and follow him, but the man went away full of sorrow. Jesus is not saying that possessions always hinder our walk with Christ, but this man replaced God with his wealth. If he wished to be a disciple, his wealth would have to go.
Jesus turns to his disciples and tells them that it is difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. He does not say that it is impossible, but it is difficult because of how addictive money and possessions can be. Sacrificial giving is part of a disciple’s character. It would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle (and yes, Jesus is talking about a sewing needle) than for a rich person to enter the kingdom.
Jewish people often thought that riches indicated God’s blessing and favor upon a person. For example, God blessed Job with riches, but when they were taken from him, people assumed he had done something to displease God. This helps us understand the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ teaching. If a person was not blessed by God with riches, then how could they be considered worthy of the kingdom? Jesus tells them that this may seem impossible in the eyes of man, but with God it is possible. Salvation is only available through God.
Peter asks Jesus what rewards they would receive for having given up everything to follow Jesus. It would seem normal for Jesus to rebuke Peter’s question, but realizing the sacrifice they have made, he gives them the answer to what they desired to know. They would be rewarded with a throne in heaven and the duty of judging the twelve tribes of Israel in the last days. Though these rewards are specific to the disciples, it shows us that God rewards those who follow him.