The longer things stay the same, the more we expect them to stay the same. That’s tradition. There is much to be valued and cherished about tradition. “Remember,” sings King David. “Remember the wonders the LORD has done.” God remains faithful to the Covenant and the promises made. The problem, according to Psalm 106, is that the people “soon forgot what the LORD had done and did not wait for his plan to unfold” (verse 13).
So, we come to Matthew 19 where the Pharisees are the keepers of traditional ways that will keep the people focused on God so that God will remain faithful to what God had promised. These were challenging times when the oppressive power of the Roman Empire threatened to eliminate Israel once and for all. If the Pharisees could just keep everyone focused on traditional ways, they could keep Rome at bay.
But then there is Jesus. Jesus who challenges traditional ways with a new way. Consider divorce. Tradition taught that since Moses included a law that permitted divorce that must mean that divorce was acceptable. But Jesus makes clear that Scripture does not encourage divorce. The new way that Jesus offers is focused on what it means to be loyal to God and to other people, especially to your marriage partner, – so start living that way. The question is not what circumstances make divorce acceptable, rather how can we live in relationships that value each other while seeking God’s direction.
In a culture where children were not valued, Jesus embraces the children and says “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (verse 14). In a culture where the traditional understanding held that a wealth person is the most blessed by God, Jesus says that it is not wealth but charity (“sell your possessions, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven”) that is to be valued.
Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. For first century Israel that’s not the conventional, the traditional way. I don’t think it is any easier for us today. It may appear no more easy to live this new way of Jesus than it would be for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle.
With human belings this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. (19:26) We cannot live this new way on our own. On our own, the record of what will happen is clear. Just read Psalm 106. Just listen to the Pharisees and history will repeat itself. Jesus offered a new way. He still does.