The Word Made Fresh
1At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2Jesus called a child and had him stand among them. 3He said, “I tell you the truth; unless you change your ways and be like children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Anyone who is as humble as this child is the most important in the kingdom of heaven. 5And anyone who welcomes a single child in my name welcomes me.
6“If any of you try to keep one of these children from believing in me, it would be better for you if a heavy millstone were tied around your neck and you were thrown into the deepest part of the sea. 7Be aware of these stumbling blocks! Temptations to stumble are sure to come, but too bad for whoever sends them!
8“If your hand or your foot makes you sin, cut it off! Throw it away! It’s better if you live maimed or lame than to have both hands and feet and be thrown into hell. 9If your eye leads you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away! It’s better to live with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell.
10“Take care that you never look down on one of these little ones. In heaven, their angels are in the constant view of my Father in heaven. 11The Son of Man came to find and save those who are lost. 12So, what do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has wandered off, won’t he leave the other ninety-nine on the hills and go look for the lost one? 13And then when he finds it, he will certainly be happier over that one that was found than over the ninety-nine that never strayed. 14Your Father in heaven would not want even one of these children to be lost.
15“If your brother does you a misdeed, go to him and privately point out what he has done. If he listens to you, you will have regained that brother. 16But if he doesn’t listen to you, take one or two witnesses with you so that everything you say can be confirmed by them. 17If he refuses to hear, tell the whole congregation. Then, if he refuses to listen even to them, dismiss him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. 18The truth is that whatever you bind on earth is also bound in heaven, and whatever you set free on earth will be free in heaven. 19I’ll tell you the truth again; if two of you agree about anything on earth it will be verified in heaven by my Father. 20Whenever two or more of you gather in my name, I will be there with you.”
21Then Peter asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often do I have to forgive him? As many as seven times?”
22Jesus said, “No, not seven times. Seventy times seven times. 23That’s why the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24One was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25He wasn’t able to pay it back, so the king ordered him to be sold along with his wife and children and everything he owned so that the king could be repaid. 26But the servant fell to his knees before the king and said, ‘Please be patient with me, and I’ll pay everything back to you.’ 27Out of pity, the king forgave him and released him from the debt. 28But then that same servant, when he was leaving the king, bumped into one of his fellow servants who owed him a day’s wage. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded payment. 29The other servant fell to his knees and pleaded, ‘Please be patient; I will pay you back.’ 30But he refused and had the other servant thrown into prison until the debt was paid. 31When the others learned of this, they were very upset. They went and reported it to the king. 32Then the king summoned the servant and said, ‘You good-for-nothing servant. I forgave all of your debt because you begged me. 33Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant, too?’ 34Then, in anger the king handed him over to be imprisoned until he paid his entire debt. 36My heavenly Father will do the same for all of you if you refuse to forgive each other from your heart.”
1-5: Matthew presents the final journey to Jerusalem as a time of intensive instructions for the disciples. Their question here reflects their lack of understanding about the kingdom of heaven, the invisible spiritual and universal order of things in which Jesus invites us to participate and which will eventually result in a new creation. Lesson 1: The concept of greatness simply doesn’t apply in the kingdom of heaven. (And the church would be more like the kingdom of heaven if people would stop trying to grab authority.) Notice that Jesus refers to believers as “little ones,” as if to emphasize the unimportance of their stature in the world.
6-7: Lesson 2: The world presents many distractions that draw us away from citizenship in the kingdom of heaven. Don’t add to them.
8-9: Don’t allow your own physical desires to draw you away from that coveted citizenship, either. Lesson 3: The soundness of the body is of secondary importance to the soundness of the spirit.
10: In Judaism there was the idea that God appointed angels to oversee nations (see for example Deuteronomy 32:8 and Daniel 10:13-20). This saying of Jesus implies that each believer has a “guardian angel,” and even the least of us have guardian angels in direct contact with God. This was an article of faith in many groups of early Christendom. Lesson 4: “Big shots” in the church should never disregard the “little ones.”
11-14: Many contemporary translations omit verse 11 (“The Son of Man came to find and save those who are lost.”) because of the lack of manuscript support. If left in it serves to introduce the parable of the lost sheep in verses 12-14. Lesson 5: God rejoices over every believer, no matter how “small” in the world.
15-20: A practical guide to conflict resolution is presented here. Lesson 6: Disputes between believers are matters of concern to the whole church.
21-22: Lesson 7: Within the kingdom of heaven, one does not keep track of acts of forgiveness.
23-35: Lesson 8: God forgives our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lesson 9: In heaven, none of us will be more important than the rest of us. We should strive to live like that in this current life.