“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” At first glance it seems like a reasonable question. People simply want to know if they are “good” to get what they desire. However, when considering Jesus’ answers to this question it becomes clear that he did not think the motivation behind it was quite right. We are told of at least two occasions where this question is brought before Jesus and both times, after first discussing the Law, Jesus offers a similar answer. On one occasion (Lk 10:25-37) the answer is, ultimately, “be a neighbor” and the others (Mt:19:15-21; Mk 10:17-22 & Lk 18:18-22), “give to the poor.”
Importantly, Jesus is not offering the perspective that giving to the poor or being a neighbor would somehow atoning for the misdeeds of the seeker. Rather, what Jesus is concerned with the motivation of the person. Is there a heart of compassion that leads a person to care for others or is there simply a concern for self?? It is not surprising that in each case the heart of care for others is lacking. It is not surprising because, inherently, a “care for others” perspective is lacking with the question, “what must I do to inherit eternal life.” The concern with asking the question is not a concern for others but for self.
Jesus says concerning the Law, it is summed up as love God and love neighbor as yourself. The Law is not offered up as some set of requirements you keep in order to inherit to inherit eternal life! Jesus does not say, “the Law is all about you.” He does say, “it is all about others!”
What if we took the same concern we have for our own well-being contained in the question “what must I do to inherit eternal life” and and projected it onto others? What if we sought life for others with the same tenacity we do our own eternal salvation? What if we asked, “what must I do that my neighbor might inherit eternal life” or “what should I do that my neighbor might experience abundant life” or even more basic, “what must I do that my neighbor might be able to simply survive today?” Those, I believe, are the questions Jesus was asking the Father concerning us! Praise God that Jesus was not concerned with his own well being but with our well being. This is the perspective, as people striving to be like Jesus, we must be concerned with.
So, what does this have to do with this weeks text- Matthew 5:31-32? Admittedly, it seems, at first glance, a bit disconnected from a text on divorce but alas, it is certainly not. Simply put, or as simply as I can, people in Jesus’ day were too often thinking of the Law as nothing more than a code to be live up to get what you want (or avoid what you don’t). Thus, marriage (and its dissolution) as it pertains to the Law was a matter of loopholes and technicalities that enabled a man to remain “righteous” while “putting away” his wife rather than self-sacrificing matter of love and devotion. It did not ask, “what must I do that my wife might experience abundant life.” Instead, divorce was rampant and the powerless (wives in this context) were disregarded in the pursuit of self ,self, self under the guise of Law keeping!
So intertwined are the Law, the powerless, divorce and selfish concern with inheriting eternal life that each Matthew, Mark and Luke attest to Jesus talking about them in the context of one another (see: Mk 10; Mt:19 & Lk 18)!