When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.(19:1-2)
With these two verses, we have a shift of scenes as well as the beginning of the transition from Galilee to Jerusalem where Matthew’s narrative will reach its climax. As you will recall, we are in a larger section in which Jesus is teaching His disciples about His mission as the Messiah, and His mission is much different than they had expected of their Messiah. I thought that we would be best served at this point, to look at a summary of the events of chapters 19 and 20 before we are caught up in the details, for often we miss the larger picture (not to mention the context) because of our expectation and traditional understanding of the details. Of course this is not to say that our understanding is wrong, but it may sometimes be slightly incomplete.
The first thing we must understand is that Jesus is going on the offensive at this point. I’m not suggesting that He lacked the initiative in Galilee, but now He is the spiritual equivalent of an invading army as He moves into Judea, challenging the very core of the Jewish tradition and ethic as it existed at the time. Make no mistake; the Jewish religious authorities will not take this assault on their position and authority lying down… and you know what happens after that.
Jesus’ first move in this match is to radically challenge the conventional values and personal rights of all people as He calls for the stabilization and preeminence of marriage, challenging a legal system that perpetuated divorce (19:3-9). This challenge seemed very difficult to the disciples (19:10), but Jesus insists that for the sake of the Kingdom, some may even be called upon to renounce their right to marry (19:11-13).
Those deemed by society to be weak and helpless, like little children, were not to be marginalized or exploited, and He even used them as models for Kingdom living (19:13-15). In a society where a person was highly regarded for their wealth and position, Jesus calls for the renunciation of possessions in favor of the higher calling of following Him (19:16-30). He tells the parable of the landowner to illustrate this graphically, reversing their values in favor of outright generosity (20:1-16). In contrast to the Gentile habit of lording it over others Jesus calls upon His disciples to be servants of all, modeling His own sacrificial mission (20:20-38). The section closes with Jesus modeling compassion for all of those who cry out in the city (20:29-34). In this way, we transition into the next section of conflict in Jerusalem, but not before Jesus has completed the task of discipling the disciples and making them aware of what sort of lifestyle will be required of them when their turn comes to proclaim the Kingdom, and of course by extension, He has provided instruction for all future generations of the values that must be predominant in the Kingdom in ages to come.