One of the requisite courses at the college I attended was biology. Every student had to take it regardless of whether their major had anything to do with science. Mine didn't. I was a communication major, partly because I was never very good at science. Nevertheless, as a freshman, I found myself in Dr. Pierson's basic biology class.
I'll never forget my first day. "This class will probably be the hardest class many of you have ever taken," Dr. Pierson began. "There will be nightly reading assignments of 100 pages or more, you'll have to keep a log, and take copious notes. Then there will be labs to do and projects to complete. You can plan on spending about 20 hours a week on this class." "20 hours a week?" I thought to myself. "I don't have 20 hours a week! I have more important things to do. Things like hanging out with friends and playing video games and watching SportsCenter!" And so I did what any self-respecting 18 year old college freshman would do in this kind of situation: I dropped the class. After all, the class was just going to be too hard to swallow.
In our reading for today from Matthew 19, we encounter some teachings from Jesus that are about as difficult to swallow as a freshmen biology class that requires 20 hours a week of coursework. First, Jesus offers a class on divorce: "I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman, commits adultery" (verse 9).
Jesus' statement here concerning the stipulations for divorce would have been quite controversial. For there were two main rabbinical schools of theology in that day, the Hillel school and the Shammai school, and each held widely disparate views on when it was a appropriate for a man to divorce his wife. The Hillel school said divorce was acceptable for basically any and every reason: "Even is she spoiled a dish, a husband may divorce his wife." Rabbi Aquiba taught: "Even if he found someone else prettier than she, a husband may divorce his wife" (Mishnah Gittin 9:10). The Shammai school, however, took a much more reserved approach toward divorce: "A man should divorce his wife only because he has found grounds for it in unchastity" (Mishnah Gittin 9:10). Because of the lax posture of the Hillel school toward divorce, it was more popular among the people. But Jesus sides with the Shammai school, being the tougher, but biblically faithful, stance. Thus, Jesus offers a hard course on divorce.
But Jesus isn't done yet. For only a few verses later, a rich young man comes to him with a question: "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life" (verse 16)? Jesus' response is stinging: "Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me" (verse 21). This rich young man is to sell everything he has worked so hard for - his house, his jewelry, his status, prestige, his power - all to follow Jesus. Tragically, this level of coursework proves to be too hard for this man, and so he drops Jesus' course: "When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth" (verse 22).
Interestingly, tucked in between these two hard courses from Jesus on divorce and wealth, we find these words: "Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.' When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there" (verse 13-15). Isn't it fascinating that while adults are having a hard time with Jesus' teaching, little children are able to pile right into the kingdom of heaven? How is it that the kindergartners of Jesus' day can readily receive and believe Jesus' teachings while the PhD's of his day cannot?
Generally speaking, the basic teachings of Jesus are not hard to understand. They do not require a graduate level degree to decipher. They are, however, hard to accept. As his disciples say after Jesus' has taught on his impending suffering and death: "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it" (John 6:60)? Why are Jesus' teachings so hard to accept? Because they call upon us to believe that God's ways are better than our ways, even when we would prefer the ease and logic of our ways. They call upon us to trust in God, even when it's hard.
Today, ask yourself, "Are there any teachings of Jesus that, although I may understand them, I've had a hard time accepting? Are there any classes from Christ that really rub me the wrong way?" If so, take some time to pray and ask God's Spirit lead you not only to understand Jesus' teaching, but to accept it and live by it. And be a kindergartner for Christ!