Tag Archives: Matthew 19

Matthew 19: 16-30 The Life of the Coming Age

Matthew 19: 16-30

Parallel Mark 10: 17-31; Luke 18: 18-30

16 Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19 Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

27 Then Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.

This encounter with the young man with an abundance of possessions provides a rich opportunity to reconsider several elements of Matthew’s gospel in a fuller light. Unfortunately Matthew’s usage of the kingdom of heaven in many places and what many translations render as ‘eternal life’ combined with the long history of the church’s proclamation about heaven being a place where one’s soul departs to after death makes this passage sound like it is primarily concerned about life after death, but that presents a stumbling block to hearing what is at stake in the dialogue between this young man, Jesus, and the disciples. All of the gospels are primarily concerned with life on earth, and while Jesus’ teaching does have an element of judgment and reward beyond this age it is, Jesus never focuses on Gehenna or heaven as destinations but is instead focused on the kingdom of heaven’s approach to earth. It is the interaction between the alternative values of the kingdom of heaven and the values of the empires of the earth that leaves both the wealthy young man and Jesus’ disciples perplexed.

The someone who approached Jesus, who we later learn is a wealthy young man, asks Jesus about what ‘good he might do in order that he might have the life of the coming age.’ There is a lot in this first line that needs unpacking and perhaps much acquired baggage that many modern Christians must leave behind so they might enter into a richer hearing of this interaction. The young man’s addresses to Jesus as ‘teacher’ should alert us that the young man’s understanding of who Jesus is comes from the perspective of how he views him within the structures of society and not with eyes that are open to who Jesus is. In Matthew’s gospel the term teacher[1] prepares us that this young man will leave unsatisfied even though Jesus will extend the invitation to this man to follow him. The question about ‘what good I might do’ (many translations limit this to state what good ‘deed’ he might do, but the question is broader than a single good ‘deed’) ‘in order that I might[2] have the life of the coming age.’ This young man has seen something of the life that Jesus and his disciples are living and he comes seeking a way that he might share with them in their experience of the kingdom of heaven’s approach. Before we encounter Jesus’ answer, let’s examine this idea of the ‘life of the coming age.’

When most Christians hear this story they think the young man is asking Jesus what he needs to do to get to heaven, but what this young man sees is the life that Jesus is partaking of now and he is asking how he can partake of it. The primary reason I render this ‘the life of the coming age’ is that our understanding of ‘eternal life’ often obscures what the New Testament is talking about (see Afterlife, Eternal Life and the Life of the Kingdom). This young man knows there is something missing in his own life, and he has come to Jesus who he sees as a teacher who can give him the answer that will fill the emptiness that apparently his possessions and current life are not.

Jesus’ initial response to the young man both points back to the center of the Jewish faith but also invites the hearer question Jesus’ identity beyond being only a teacher. The Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) is the central confession of the Jewish people where they confess “The LORD is our God, the LORD is one” (or alone as the NRSV renders) and the Psalms and the prophets often link the LORD as the one who is good.[3] While the young man is called to center of God and God’s commandments as the revelation of goodness, we have also seen throughout Matthew’s gospel the continual drawing of Jesus’ authority and God’s authority close together and so the question of “Why do you ask me what is good?” also asks “how do you see my words and God’s words linked?” The young man is still viewing Jesus through the lens of a teacher, so he focuses only on the keeping of the commandments by asking a clarifying question of “which ones?”

Jesus’ answer joins Leviticus 19:18 to the commandments dealing with one’s relationship with others, emphasizing the communal nature of this life that the young man is desiring to enter into with the interesting omission of the command on coveting. The young man still realizes something is missing and desires what he is lacking, and this is where the command of coveting enters the discussion. Jesus’ final words to this young man are, “If you will/desire (Greek thelo) to be whole/complete (this is again the Greek telios[4]), go…” Will/desire has a stronger force than simply wishing for wholeness, there is an active element of the heart (the instrument of will in Hebrew thought) working towards that end. Again, we often think of perfection in terms of an individualistic moral perfection which would be alien to biblical thought which is communal. The term wholeness or completeness better captures what Jesus is offering this young man. The young man realizes something is missing, but what he fails to comprehend is that finding this new treasure will mean giving up all that he owns to possess it like the one who finds a treasure in a field or the merchant who finds a pearl of exceeding value. (13:44-46) The command to sell his possessions, give to the poor, and having a storehouse in heaven echoes the Sermon on the Mount when it talks about possessions (6:19-21) but it also is accompanied by the calling that the disciples received (4: 18-22) The lure of wealth (13: 22) perhaps chokes the seed of this calling to follow Jesus and the young man departs disappointed and the disciples remain perplexed.

As the young man departs, Jesus turns to his disciples who even though they have left behind their lives to follow him still remain bound to thinking in the terms of the empires of this world. If a person who is young, wealthy, Jewish and male has great difficulty entering the kingdom of heaven, a person who in the eyes of Judaism has every privilege, then how can a humble child? The values of this kingdom are truly upside down: where the last are first and the first are last. The saying about the camel passing through the eye of a needle is not about some mythical gate where a camel must be unburdened and kneel down to pass through (that is a story about a gate that never existed and obscures the meaning of the image) but instead the image points to an impossibility. A camel cannot pass through the eye of a needle, nor do a rich men give up their wealth and privilege without divine intervention. Yet, with the advent of the kingdom of heaven God is at work making incredible things possible.

Peter, on behalf of the disciples, asks what their reward is for what they have given up. Peter still thinks in the value system of the world and is focusing on what he and the other disciples have left behind instead of what they have gained. I do not say this as a critique of Peter, few if any followers of Jesus completely unlearn the values of the world they grew up with, but Jesus points Peter and the disciples to the ‘renewal of all things’ where they will have positions of honor and the investment they made in the kingdom of heaven will be revealed as they participate in this life of the coming age. But being the greatest in the kingdom is like being a child (18:1-5) or a servant  or slave (20:26-27), it is the upside down values of a kingdom which approaches the earth, of a Lord who serves, where the first are last and the last are first. This vision of the kingdom taps into the hope for the regathering of all of Israel, but as we will learn at the end of the gospel it will continue with the spread beyond Israel to all the nations.

[1] In Matthew when someone refers to Jesus as teacher it often indicated either that the person is challenging Jesus’ authority or that their insight into who Jesus is (faith) is not open to the answer he will give them (8: 18, 9:11; 12: 38; 17: 24; 22:16; 22:24; 22:36).

[2] The verb is an aorist (undefined) subjunctive which is the mood of possibility often expressed with ‘may’ or ‘might’ (Mounce 1993, 282-283)

[3] See for example Psalm 34:8; 100:5; 119: 68; 135: 3; 136:1; Jeremiah 33:11; Lamentations 3: 25, 28 and Nahum 1:7

[4] I’ve written about telios in both Perfection and Blamelessness in the Bible and when I discuss Matthew 5:48

Matthew 19: 13-15 Infants of the Kingdom of Heaven

By Carl Bloch – The Athenaeum: Home – info – pic, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25991809

Matthew 19: 13-15

Parallels Mark 10: 13-16; Luke 18: 15-17

13 Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.

This beloved passage is often taught in Sunday schools to demonstrate Jesus’ care for children and when I was growing up was often accompanied by the song ‘Jesus loves the little children.’ While the sentiment of Jesus caring about children remains true, the placing of this story in Matthew’s gospel also highlights the barriers that adults often place between families seeking blessing for their young children and Jesus. The question of divorce and relationships naturally flows to the question of children and their place within the community. As we saw in Matthew 18:1-5, even when Jesus is directly addressing the disciples the crowds and the presence of children is never far away from Jesus and those with him. Communities of ‘little faith ones’ are to be places where ‘little children’ are welcome, for the kingdom of heaven is for them as well.

In this kingdom of heaven where the first are last and the last are first a rich man has a difficult time entering the kingdom (those who in the society have the highest value) but infants (the Greek paidion is an infant or very young child) are those who belong naturally. The disciples are still learning how to discern the boundaries of this community and become the very stumbling blocks Jesus mentions in the previous chapter when he places a child in their midst. The disciples don’t merely ‘speak sternly’ to the crowd, the Greek epitimao is rebuke. This is what Jesus does to the wind on the sea (8:26) or to cast out a demon (17:18), or when he orders crowds not to make him known (12:16). Perhaps more directly it is what Peter does to Jesus when Jesus foretells his death (18:22) and what the crowds will do to attempt to silence the two blind men crying out for Jesus’ intervention. (20:31) The disciples are attempting to silence these infants and those who bring them, but Jesus’ voice overrules them. Matthew removes the indignation that Jesus’ expresses in Mark, and perhaps for Matthew we see Jesus continuing to model and teach for his disciples the way they are to embody. Little ones are not to have barriers placed before them, disciples are not to become stumbling blocks (see 18: 6-10) and babies and young children have a place in this kingdom.

This community of Jesus is an alternative to the ways communities that formed the imaginations of the crowds and the disciples. Children become an example for adults of what the kingdom of heaven is like and the greatest in the kingdom of heaven is like a humble child (18:3), lost sheep are sought after while the rest of the herd is left on the mountain (18:12-14), sinners are sought after multiple times with the chance of reconciliation and those who exclude others invoke their lord’s anger (18:15-35). It is a community where women are protected in relationship at the cost of formerly assumed rights by men to dissolve a relationship (19:1-12) and children have a place in the kingdom while rich, able bodied men find it impossible (outside of God’s intervention) to enter. It is a strange place where those who renounce their maleness (as eunuchs do) and who are separated from the normal path of marriage and procreation have a place in this kingdom of heaven, and those who renounce family and fields will receive a hundred fold and encounter the life of this new age.

Matthew 19: 1-12 Relationships and the Kingdom Revisited

James Tissot, Sermon on the Beatitudes (1886-96)

Matthew 19: 1-12

When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2 Large crowds followed him, and he cured them there.

3 Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?” 8 He said to them, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.”

10 His disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”

Even though chapter nineteen begins with the notation that ‘Jesus had completed these words’ which normally signals the end of a block of teaching and the movement into narrative, there is are several strong links in chapters nineteen and twenty to the teaching in chapter eighteen. These next two chapters continue to have Jesus help the community to discern the values they are to embody in the world while narratively moving Jesus into position for the final week in Jerusalem. While chapter eighteen is directed to the disciples, even though the crowds are not far away as evidenced by the presence of a child who can be pulled into their midst, but now the focus expands to the large crowds which are back and with them comes the Pharisees. Jesus continues to heal and teach and embody the kingdom of heaven as he moves through this region of Judea beyond the Jordan. Jesus’ ministry continues to be to the lost sheep of the house  of Israel as he bypasses Samaria on his journey south. Jesus only mention of Samaria and the Samaritans in Matthew is his command for the disciples not to go to them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 10: 5-6)

The test of the Pharisees provides an opportunity for Jesus to teach the crowds, the Pharisees and his disciples how to read scripture and to interpret the law. This is not an idle question, but as Warren Carter can identify, “Questions of marriage, divorce, and remarriage are life-and-death matters, as John the Baptist found out (14: 1-12)” (Carter 2005, 378) In Matthew’s gospel we will later see the disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians to attempt to entrap Jesus (22: 15-22) and as I’ve alluded one of the reasons both John and Jesus probably find themselves in conflict with the Pharisees (and Sadducees) is the way they have accommodated themselves to the political powers represented by the Herods and Rome. The placement of the Pharisees now asking a question to entrap Jesus about divorce opens the possibility that they also informed Herod Antipas of John’s condemnation of Herod’s relationship with Herodias.

Matthew’s gospel has already stated Jesus’ beliefs on divorce, which are rearticulated here, in the Sermon on the Mount (5: 31-32) and it is probable that the Pharisees are aware of this position, and select this question of whether it is ‘lawful’ for a man to divorce his wife for any reason expecting him to restate this position and perhaps alienate many men who are following him. Deuteronomy 24: 1-4 is the one place in the law where divorce is discussed for the general population of the people of Israel:

Suppose a man enters into a marriage with a women, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; Deuteronomy 24:1

Divorce is, in Deuteronomy 24 and in the position of the Pharisees in this narrative, an assumed option of any man who has a wife who does not ‘please him.’ We know that there are various perspectives within Judaism about what would provide justification for a man to divorce his wife, but in the question the Pharisees are testing Jesus with a question where there assumption is that it is ‘lawful.’ Jesus previously has quoted Deuteronomy 24 but then goes on to say to those listening:

But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (5: 32)

Here Jesus goes back to the creation narrative for his answer referencing both Genesis 1:27 where God made them male and female and Genesis 2:24 where a man leaves father and mother and is joined to his wife and they become one flesh. These Pharisees interpret the law differently and point back to the commandment of Moses which they believe gives them permission to write a certificate of dismissal and divorce their spouse for any cause. Jesus’ attributes this to Moses’ accommodation to the ‘hard-heartedness’ of the people and continues to point to a community where divorce is only an option for men in rare circumstances.

As in 5: 31-32, The Greek term porneia which is translated unchastity by the NRSV is open to debate about its exact meaning: illicit sexual relations with a person other than the spouse, premarital unchastity (this is the assumption behind Joseph’s initial decision to quietly divorce Mary prior to the angel of the Lord, and Joseph is considered a righteous man (1:18-21)) or even (in relation to Leviticus 18) being married too closely in family relations (an incestuous marriage in the eyes of the law). In Greek this term is a general term relating to sexual misconduct, but it is a different term than moicheoo which is translated adultery in this passage. I’ve assumed throughout these reflections that Mark’s gospel is older than Matthew’s and the addition of the “except for unchastity” between the two gospels demonstrates (along with Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians about Christians married to non-Christian spouses whose spouses choose to divorce) demonstrates that even within the formation of the Christian cannon there is already a deliberation and adaptation about the prohibition against divorce.

What the disciples’ reaction highlights is the manner in which Jesus’ reframing of marriage alters the renunciation of rights for the male involved in the marriage. Marriages in the ancient world were primarily economic relationships where women were dependent upon men for their status, their linkage to the land and their property, and when men dissolve this relationship it places women in a challenging position of being isolated from their status, land and home. There is a costliness for husbands in committing their life and resources without reservation to one individual. I don’t say this to ignore the sacrifices that women make in relation to marriage, but instead I want to highlight the leveling of the relationship by Jesus and others who argued for a restrictive view of divorce in the ancient world. This renunciation of a man’s right to request a divorce on their terms is enough for his disciples to contemplate celibacy as a better economic option. We know that at least Peter is married (Jesus healed his mother-in-law in 8:15) and presumably other disciples were as well. Jesus’ appeal to eunuchs is also another place where Jesus challenges this perception of masculinity. Eunuchs are viewed as emasculated men, people who have lost a fundamental part of their identity and do not fit neatly into the category of male or female. Eunuchs, in Deuteronomy 23:1, are prevented from being a part of the assembly of the Lord and from the priesthood (Leviticus 21:20). Yet Isaiah 56:4-5 includes the promise for eunuchs who hold fast to the LORD’s name a place within God’s house. Jesus, siding with Isaiah, announces that there is a place within God’s household for those who by birth, by being made a eunuch by others, or who renounce marriage (and procreation) for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, but that is not the path for everyone. For those who choose the path of marriage and procreation there is a renunciation of the privilege of maleness to terminate that relationship, except in extreme cases, because one’s partner does not ‘please them.’ Jesus’ reinterpretation of the commandment goes to the heart of God’s intent in creation where the creation of male and female are both the image of God and their joining together in marriage is a joining of their identities in the eyes of God. Yet, for the man there is the choice to renounce their maleness, through celibacy, as another option in pursuing the kingdom of heaven.

Images for Transfiguration Sunday, Ash Wednesday and the First Sunday of Lent

Forgot to get Transfiguration Sunday, this year from Matthew’s Gospel, out so it is a combined post with a lot of images:

Transfiguration Sunday

The initial reading is Moses being called up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments, the design of the Tabernacle, etc. I found what I think is a really different image of Moses that reflects the multiple roles he constantly had to do in his time leading the people of Israel.

Moses by Victorvictori, permission granted by author through WikiCommons

Moses by Victorvictori, permission granted by author through WikiCommons

And now on to a few of the plethora of images of the Transfiguration:

Transfiguration by artjones@deviantart.com

Transfiguration by artjones@deviantart.com

 

Giovanni Bellini, Transfiguration of Christ (1487-1495)

Giovanni Bellini, Transfiguration of Christ (1487-1495)

 

The Saviour's Transfiguration, an early 15th century icon attributed to Theophanes the Greek

The Saviour’s Transfiguration, an early 15th century icon attributed to Theophanes the Greek

Transfiguration by Raphael, (1518-1520)

Transfiguration by Raphael, (1518-1520)

Ash Wednesday

There are a lot of images of black crosses and ashes out there, for imagery this time I’m focusing on Psalm 51 which the opening line attributes to David after he is confronted by the Prophet Nathan after he had go in to Bathsheba

Bathsheba by Artemisia Gentileschi (1636)

Bathsheba by Artemisia Gentileschi (1636)

 

Pieter Lastman, King David Handing the Letter to Uriah (1611)

Pieter Lastman, King David Handing the Letter to Uriah (1619)

James Tissot, Nathan Rebukes David (1896-1902)

James Tissot, Nathan Rebukes David (1896-1902)

 

Palma Giovane, Prophet Nathan ermahnt Konig David (1622)

Palma Giovane, Prophet Nathan ermahnt Konig David (1622)

First Sunday of Lent

Two really rich pictoral readings, the Genesis narrative of Adam and Eve and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Matthew’s full temptation narrative

First a couple select images of the Adam and Eve story I found interesting,

Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil by Dr. Lidia Kozenitzky (2009) Image made available by artist through WikiCommons

Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil by Dr. Lidia Kozenitzky (2009) Image made available by artist through WikiCommons

William Blake, Adam and Eve (1808)

William Blake, Adam and Eve (1808)

 

The Fall of Man by Lucas Cranach (1530)

The Fall of Man by Lucas Cranach (1530)

And the Temptation, where in Matthew there are the three distinct temptations

Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi, Christ in the Desert (1872)

Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi, Christ in the Desert (1872)

There are multiple artists who have done representations of the three temptations, like William Blake or Peter Paul Reubens, I’m going to just show James Tissot’s interpretation:

Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness, James Tissot

Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness, James Tissot

 

James Tissot, Jesus Carried to teh Pinnacle of the Temple

James Tissot, Jesus Carried to the Pinnacle of the Temple

 

James Tissot, Jesus Transported by a Spirit up to a High Mountain

James Tissot, Jesus Transported by a Spirit up to a High Mountain

 

James Tissot, Jesus Ministered to by the Angels (1886-1894)

James Tissot, Jesus Ministered to by the Angels (1886-1894),