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Matthew 18:1-9 – Greatness in the Kingdom

Summary

Jesus instructs his disciples on true greatness in the kingdom. Greatness in the kingdom depends on having the humility of a child and welcoming such "little ones."

Analysis

Rather than being the topic of an argument among themselves as in Mark (Mark 9:33 34), the disciples in Matthew come appropriately to Jesus with their questions about who is greatest in the kingdom. Jesus responds that entrance into the kingdom depends on having the humility of a child, and greatness in the kingdom means to have the kind of hospitality that recognizes and welcomes such little ones. The consistent use of children and "little ones" to describe the members of the kingdom marks a pointed contrast to the disciples' question about greatness (see also 19:13-15).

The opposite of such welcoming of "little ones" is treated in 18:6-9. The word variously translated as "stumbling block" or "temptation to sin" is the same word that is translated as "offense" in Matthew 11:6 and links these passages around the theme of following Jesus. The stumbling block refers to anything that occasions one of these "little ones who believe in me" (18:6) to be lost to the kingdom. Exaggerated language describes the seriousness of rooting out any defect that would get in the way of anyone's belonging to the kingdom. This is serious business, but serious especially for those who fail to hold fast the little ones.

Matthew 18:1-9

True Greatness

18At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ 2He called a child, whom he put among them, 3and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

Temptations to Sin

6 ‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7Woe to the world because of stumbling-blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling-block comes!

8 ‘If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell* of fire.

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10 February 2011

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