New Testament in 6 months – day 15

16 Apr

Matthew 19:1-20:16
When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” “Why then, ” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there. Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” “Which ones?” the man inquired. Jesus replied, “ ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honour your father and mother, ’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” “All these I have kept, ” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’  ‘Because no one has hired us, ’ they answered. He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour, ’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Divorce, singleness, children, the rich and our heavenly reward. An interesting collection of themes.

So the Pharisees come, yet again, to test Jesus. And they clearly come with a question which they think they have a good attack regardless of Jesus’ answer. But Jesus’ response to their second question defeats them for Jesus reaffirms marriage in it’s original setting of being for life, then affirms the change in the law that brought in divorce. However in affirming the change Jesus resets the parameters that man appears to have set for themselves by declaring only marital unfaithfulness as an acceptable reason for divorce.
Jesus then follows this up by commenting on singleness. He talks about eunuchs in 3 forms, 2 biological and 1 spiritual. And it is the spiritual one that Jesus then links back to marriage. Because He says that those who are not called to marriage should accept this. And I believe that this, in part, is a reflection on divorce. For some people who are not called to marriage may still enter into it, only for it to lead to divorce. And, as it is unlikely to be a divorce due to unfaithfulness, it means that the spouse of the one called to singleness will be committing adultery if they remarry. So by remaining single when called to be single a “spiritual eunuch” both follows the call of God on their life and does not cause another to sin.
Then we have the children being turned away by the disciples, only for the disciples to be rebuked for doing this. And then Jesus blesses the children and declares that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like the children. Now on one level, as a youth worker, this is a verse that affirms my work because it highlights the importance of young people to God. But it is also a pointer to adults, for it is saying that Heaven belongs to those who are like a child. A child, particularly under the age of 10, has utter devotion to their parents, both in what they say and what they do. They accept it without question as truth and usually follow it to the letter. And Jesus is saying that should be the way we are with our Heavenly Father.
Then we have the rich man who struggles with the idea of giving up all he has. And this is particularly pertinent in today’s Western society, where possessions are a huge part of the culture. Indeed, we often read about “the haves and the have nots” of this world. But the question for us today is, could we lay down all that we own to follow the call of God on our lives? That means our house, our car, our computer, our music, our clothes, our food, everything we own. It is a challenge I have yet to have to face, but I would hope that if it were to come then I would say yes, without question.
And then, finally, we come to our heavenly reward. Jesus tells the parable about all the workers getting the same pay, regardless of when they started work. Now I know that elsewhere in the Bible there are bits which talk about us getting rewarded according to what we have done. But I believe that this particular parable is all about just getting to Heaven. For whether you are brought up in a Christian home and are a Christian all your life, or whether you are converted on your death bed, you will be going to Heaven. In this sense all get paid the same at the end of the day. And this is sometimes a challenge to those who see how other people behave in their lives. Because they may think that they could have lived a debauched life as well, only to repent and believe at the very end and still get the same reward. So why should they be in with those who might be serial adulterers in life, murders, liars and thieves? But Jesus reminds us that it is not us that decide what is fair, but God. And, as is often said, when we get to Heaven we will be surprised by who else is there, and maybe also by who isn’t. For the Kingdom of God turns our world upside down and inside out, as the first will be last and the last will be first.


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Archbishop Cranmer

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