In chapter 17, Jesus and His disciples were gathering in Galilee when Jesus told them, "The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” After a brief final stop in Capernaum, they now head southward, inevitably toward Jerusalem.
Matthew calls attention both to the crowds and to the Pharisees, who again test Him: “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” Matthew doesn’t reveal in this passage whether the Pharisees are testing Jesus to trap Him or whether they are seeking wisdom. It’s tempting to read this in the negative, but it’s not necessary to observe Jesus’ deftness both at handling the Pharisees and their question. As He did with the devil in chapter 4, and with the Pharisees and scribes in chapter 15, Jesus quotes Scripture: “Have you not read…” He asks “…A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh? What God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Their response “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?" can either be cynical or curious. Odds are it’s the former, because they twist Deuteronomy 24 into an unrecognizable shape. Moses makes no such command; he simply acknowledges the reality of divorce, and the Law provides protections for women who are tossed about by fickle husbands. Jesus pushes beyond their legal question to the heart of the matter: “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”
This acute interaction sets up the rest of today’s reading, which emphasizes the upended nature of the Kingdom of God. It is where “The last will be first, and the first, last,” a place that the rich can only enter “with great difficulty,” and where God can do what He chooses “with what belongs [to Him].”
Now keen readers will pick up on the track of Jesus’ journey today. In today’s first verse, Jesus and His disciples entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. This was a typical route for Jews heading to Jerusalem who wished to avoid Samaria, which sat between Galilee and Judea. Then in chapter 20 Jesus reenters Judea by crossing the Jordan near Jericho. This ancient city is where the final leg of Jesus’ journey begins, and it’s where the last leg of Israel’s journey began, fourteen centuries ago.
Our verse for this week is Psalm 19:4: Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
Matthew 19 and 20. Now let’s read it!
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.