Monday, July 30, 2012

Matthew 19

In the first century it was easy and fairly common for a man to divorce his wife. The divorced woman had few, if any career options. Women were not allowed to own property and they were forbidden pretty much any and all career opportunities. Her best option would be to find another family member to take her in, at least then she would have room and board. Many divorced women fell into to destitution or turned to prostitution to survive. Jesus teaching on divorce (19:1-12) is a shift from this casual and unjust treatment of women in the first century society. Biblically there are legitimate grounds for divorce: adultery and abandonment. Divorce, spiritually, is the rending of a joined soul (two become one). Divorce should only be practiced when it is necessary to prevent a greater evil (continued abuse, abandonment, breach of marriage vows, etc.).

The story of the Rich Young Man reflects Jesus central teaching on wealth and possessions. The point Jesus makes is not that the rich young man controls a lot of stuff, the point is the rich young man's stuff is controlling him. I have come to realize that how much we have is not the critical question. I have known generous people who owned next to nothing. I have known generous people who owned, by the worlds standards, everything. I have known miserly rich people and I have known miserly poor people. The question is not how much you own but how much owns you. That is why, back in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says where you treasure is there you heart will be. What I value most becomes the center of my life and love. When keeping, accumulating, and protecting my material possessions becomes the primary focus of my life those possessions have become an Idol for me. This is a vital lesson for modern Americans. The primary American Idols are Money, Sex, Power and Self. (They used to call them Mammon, Venus, Aries and Narcissus.) The only cure is to learn to be generous and giving. One friend of mine once said "being generous may be the most counter cultural thing of all."

The Disciples of Jesus are astounded. In the first century (and, for many, our own as well) it was believed that money and possessions were a sign of God's favor. This is why the disciples ask Jesus "who can be saved?" They are asking: if those who reflect the favor of God (by owning a lot of stuff) are going to have a hard time entering the Kingdom . . . what hope is there for the rest of us?

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