The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary & meditation 
"It is not the will of my Father that one of these little ones should perish"

Scripture: Matthew 18:1-14

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, 3 and said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his  neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 "Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes! 8 And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be  thrown into the hell of fire. 10 "See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven. 12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?  13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
Meditation: Are you surprised to see the disciples discussing with Jesus who is the greatest? Don't we do the same thing? The appetite for glory and greatness seems to be inbred in us. Who doesn't cherish the ambition to be "somebody" whom others admire rather than a "nobody"? Even the psalms speak about the glory God has destined for us. You have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor (Psalm 8:5). Jesus made a dramatic gesture by placing a child next to himself to show his disciples who really is the greatest in the kingdom of God. What can a little child possibly teach us about greatness? Children in the ancient world had no rights, position, or privileges of their own. They were socially at the "bottom of the rung" and at the service of their parents, much like the household staff and domestic servants. What is the significance of Jesus' gesture? Jesus elevated a little child in the presence of his disciples by placing the child in a privileged position of honor at his right side. It is customary, even today, to seat the guest of honor at the right side of the host. Who is the greatest in God's kingdom? The one who is humble and lowly of heart— who instead of asserting their rights willingly empty themselves of pride and self-seeking glory by taking the lowly position of a servant or child.

Jesus addressed an issue common to the wisdom literature -- pride and its subsequent fall.  A man's pride brings him low, but he who is lowly is spirit will obtain honor (Proverbs 29:23).  Jesus also warned about the necessity of temptation.  The scriptural word for temptation is often translated as testing.  God tests the heart, both to expose what is hurtful and to strengthen what is good.  Jesus used the example of a child to show his disciples how they are to deal with pride and temptation.  We must live in simplicity of heart and in humble reliance upon God. Jesus sets before his disciples the one goal in life that is worth any sacrifice and that goal is the will of God which leads to everlasting life.  Just as a doctor might remove a limb or some part of the body in order to preserve the life of the whole body, so we must be ready to part anything that causes us to sin and which leads to spiritual death. Jesus warns his disciples of the terrible responsibility that they must set no stumbling block  in the way of another, that is, not give offense or bad example that might lead another to sin.  The Greek word for temptation (scandalon) is exactly the same as the English word scandal.  The original meaning of scandal is a trap or a stumbling block which causes one to trip and fall.  The Jews held that it was an unforgivable sin to teach another to sin. If we teach another to sin, he in turn may teach still another, until a train of sin is set in motion with no foreseeable end. The young in faith are especially vulnerable to the bad example of those who should be passing on the faith.  Do you set a good example for others to follow, especially the young?

What does Jesus' story about a lost sheep tell us about God and his kingdom? Shepherds normally counted their sheep at the end of the day to make sure all were accounted for. Since sheep by their very nature are very social, an isolated sheep can quickly become bewildered and even neurotic. The shepherd's grief and anxiety is turned to joy when he finds the lost sheep and restores it to the fold. What was new in Jesus' teaching was the insistence that sinners must be sought out and not merely mourned for. God does not rejoice in the loss of anyone, but desires that all be saved and restored to fellowship with him. That is why the whole community of heaven rejoices when one sinner is found and restored to fellowship with God (Luke 15:7). Seekers of the lost are much needed today. Do you pray and seek after those you know who have lost their way to God?

"Lord, teach me your way of humility and simplicity of heart that I may find perfect joy in you. May your light shine through me that others may see your truth and love and find hope and peace in you."

Go to | Gospel of Matthew | Daily Readings & Meditations | Words of Life |
(c) 2002 Don Schwager