Exodus 4–6, Psalm 18:21-50, Matthew 19
In today’s reading from Exodus, God calls Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery into freedom. In this role, Moses will not only deliver God’s people into the promised land, but will also deliver the law (Torah). The best known part of the Torah, the ten commandments, are not simply rules but a framework to form and maintain a new kind of society.
Every community has to have rules, and communities around Jesus are no exception. Keeping God’s commandments, namely, the law is a hallmark of Matthew’s community. “Don’t think that I have come to destroy the law and the prophets,” Jesus says in Matthew 5:17. “I have come not to destroy but to fulfil them.”
Obedience to God is central to being part of a community. At the heart of Psalm 18, verses 30–31 explain that God’s way is perfect and that God is a shield for all who take refuge in him. Keeping the commandments of God is a way of being obedient to God. Matthew’s nineteenth chapter occurs in a section of the gospel in which a community, having been formed around Jesus, begins to regulate itself. The practice of praying the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6) has already identified community members as siblings addressing God as Heavenly Father. Chapter 18 identifies both membership and mechanisms for discipline in the community in the case of a brother or sister sinning against a community member, while chapter 19 seeks to regulate divorce in a context of marriage and children.
Jesus prohibits divorce in Mark 10. But in Matthew 19, we hear teaching on divorce that moderates Mark 10 and lets us see that Jesus’s teaching on divorce was not univocal. Characters in the narrative include Matthew’s Pharisees, who question Jesus on a controversial topic, and Matthew’s disciples, who seek to understand Jesus’ teaching. Topics in the narrative that fall under the rubric of Jesus’ instruction to disciples about entering the kingdom of heaven by keeping the commandments include divorce, eunuchs, and children.
Like Moses who delivered the law, Jesus reminds his first followers—and reminds us— that our relationships with one another are integral to our relationship with God.
How does your Christian community regulate itself?
Are there ever circumstances in which someone might be exiled from a community?
How does your Christian community reflect diversity, including unmarried people?
O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront one another without hatred or bitterness and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
-Dr. Deirdre Good
Professor of New Testament
The General Theological Seminary
New York, New York