Sunday, December 17, 2017

Matthew 19: Relationships Vs. Riches

Matthew 19 is a study in contrasts.  The Pharisees come to Jesus seeking approval for the termination of marriages.  Jesus tells them a marriage is the spiritual merger of a man and a woman into one flesh; it is not so simply ended.  Meanwhile, a rich man approaches Jesus seeking to gain entry into the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus tells him that spiritual perfection for him lies in the renunciation of all his goods.  This the man cannot accept; he would rather cling to his possessions than follow Jesus.

It has been said that our problem is that we love things and use people when we really should use things and love people.  Matthew 19 can be viewed as a biblical treatment of that proverb.

In a rather crass way, the Pharisees are looking for the acceptable uses of women.  Can they, for instance, be divorced "for any cause?"(vs. 3)  Although it's not explicitly in the Bible, I picture Jesus answering with a heavy sigh.  These legalists are trying to understand divorce when they don't even understand marriage.  When they argue with Jesus, not liking the answer that He gave them, and point out that Moses permitted divorce, Jesus counters that was because they are so hard-hearted.  Divorce is a concession, not a cause for celebration.

The rich man is similarly challenged to value people and relationships higher than he is.  While he claims to be morally impeccable, having kept the commandments, his love and compassion need to be fanned into flame.  Jesus encourages the man to put others above himself, and specifically poor people above his possessions.  But when asked to re-order his priorities and place relationships atop riches, the man simply cannot stomach going down that road.  His wealth has too tight of a grip on his heart.

And that is precisely his (our) problem.  It isn't that riches are wrong or that being wealthy is sinful.  It's when we refuse to loosen our grip and let the goods of this world pass through our fingers for the sake of others when we are on shaky ground. 

Attachment to things rather than people is part of the downfall of our race.  We prefer riches to relationships.  That is why it is so hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Their hands are too full of earth.

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