How do we judge greatness in others?
Although our study this quarter is on Matthew, the context for today’s lesson is really in Luke 9:46-48. There, an argument boiled between disciples as to who was the greatest. Today, this is known as “smack-talk,” trying to put someone else down and elevating oneself. How would Jesus respond to His bickering, childish disciples?
Matthew 18:1-9—Like a Child
Matthew 18:1-4 (as well as Luke) record Jesus’ response: He puts a child among them and informs them that someone who humbles himself like the child is the greatest. Humility can be both an inward attitude and an outward action or deportment. Luke 14:7-11 illustrates how invitees at a meal should carry themselves by sitting at lesser places, not those reserved for the VIPs.
Can I fake humility? If I carry out the deeds of a humble person, is it enough to actually be humble? (like courage: “pressing on in spite of present fear”) How will I know the difference between good manners and true humility?
But this doesn’t reflect the heart, only common courtesy. Jesus reveals in Matt. 18:3 that disciples must be “converted,” that is, turned back into children. Most adults forget what it is like to be a child. But accepting a child in Jesus’ name is also as good as accepting Jesus Himself.
In what ways did Jesus expect the disciples to become like children? Can I know if I’ve become like a child, too?
Matthew 18:10-20—Reconciliation of Lost Sheep
Matthew 18:10-14 tells the parable of the lost sheep, followed by 18:15-20, where people of the Israelite congregation (“ekklesia”, that is, also translated “church”, Israel by faith) are to reconcile with brothers who have sinned against them by pointing out sins privately. Others are only called in to witness if the brother won’t listen and be reconciled. Vs. 18 is a restatement of 16:19, only this time the plural “you all” is used for those binding and loosing.
How does Matthew 18:20 fit into the overall context of this section? The verse is usually used differently…
Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive a bother who sins against him. The generous, and holy 7 times Peter proposes seems good, but Jesus multiplies by 70. Jesus tells a parable to explain the fundamental concept: How many times have I sinned against God, yet He continues to forgive me. How, then, can I not forgive my brother for lesser offenses that do not lead ultimately to the death of God’s son? The challenge comes when social science gets involved.
What makes forgiveness so difficult to do? Can I learn to forgive without becoming a doormat for people to walk all over, or enabling wicked behavior in others?
What place does Jesus’ previous advice about speaking to brothers who sin against us have in this process of forgiveness?
Jesus’ standards of greatness are often lauded by popular culture, but the spotlight usually shines on those with money, fame or infamy, power, position, achievement, intellect, revenge or some combination of these. The Kingdom of God values humility, forgiveness, repentance, and love.