It is interesting that Matthew would, between the two very forceful texts about marriage and wealth, sandwich a little account about children being brought to Jesus (19:13-15).
We should remember that little of the gospel accounts are chronological, in other words, the account about the children doesn’t occur there in Matthew’s gospel just because it happened between the test of the Pharisees about divorce and the question of the rich young man. These stories are strung together as they are because they speak to the value system of the kingdom of heaven.
Children were far less valued in the ancient world than they are today. A child had no right to live unless his father formally accepted him, and many unwanted children were simply thrown away. Orphanages and foster care was unheard of – and would have been thought to be madness in the ancient world. So, when Jesus gave priority to children (as in “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”) in chapters 18 and 19, Jesus was announcing a changed value system – God’s. He does it a different way at the end of 19 and in 20 when he asserts: “the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Humankind has always been somewhat ambivalent about marriage. There are lots more bad marriages and broken marriages than good ones, leading most people in our age to say “why bother?” We are nearing the point where “living together” has just as many adherents as “marrieds.” But God’s value system says marriage is important, a life-long commitment, serious business that, when messed up, endangers one’s soul.
On the other hand, humankind has never been ambivalent about money. More is better. Rich is good. Yet Jesus says “it’s difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Wealth is the sort of thing that tends to run your life, and it’s always squeezing God out.
Those longing for the kingdom of heaven will never be at home with a worldly value system. And those who prize what the world prizes will find themselves less interested in letting God rule their lives.