October 9, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Thursday after Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity


Morning – Psalm 100, 110, 1 King 22:29-40, 1 Tim. 1:12
Evening – Psalm 116, Job 38:31-38, Mt. 18:1-14

Commentary, Matthew 18:1-14

Our Lord’s teaching here answers the question, who is the greatest?  The unspoken meaning of the question can be stated simply; “I want to be the greatest.”  In more contemporary terms we might say, “I want my greatness to be recognized in the Church.  I want my giving, my knowledge, my wisdom, my talents to bring honour to me, especially from those who are younger and weaker in the faith (meaning, everyone).” But Jesus turns greatness around.  In His Kingdom greatness is not measured by accomplishments and fame.  In His Kingdom greatness is measured by service, and the lowliest servant is greater than the mightiest warrior.  In His Kingdom greatness is measured by dependence and trust, not by independence and accomplishments.  A little child is completely dependent.  It cannot provide for itself, feed itself, or defend itself from the elements or enemies.  Yet Christ tells us to become a little child in His Kingdom.  This means we do not claim great status in the Kingdom of God.  We do not even claim to have any right to be in it.  We come to it more dependent upon God than a child is upon his parents.  In the ultimate sense, we cannot really give anything to God or contribute anything to His Kingdom.  We can only receive, like a child.

Lest we think we are great in the Kingdom, Christ reminds us to not only receive it as a child receives the necessities of life from his parents, but also to be careful not to harm those we view as little ones in the Kingdom (vs. 6).  It is common for we who believe we are mature in the faith to deal roughly with those of smaller, newer, weaker faith.  It is as though we forget that it took time and much help to bring us to our level of maturity, which is usually not as great in reality as it is in our imaginations.  It is as though we forget our many failures and lapses, and the sinfulness that even now clings to us.

Thus, Christ reminds us to deal gently with others.  This is so important He tells us to drown ourselves in the sea, cut off our hands and feet, and pluck out our eyes, if through them we cause offense to the weak.  It is better to enter Heaven halt, maimed, and blind, than to be cast whole into hell fire.

There seems to be an implication here that if we are not able to be gentle to those we consider weaker in faith, then we are not really in Christ.  Something is preventing us from coming to Him in genuine faith, and it will be good for us to expunge it from our lives rather than cling to it and suffer in hell.  That something is not really a hand, or foot, or eye, and our Lord is not literally telling us to cut them off.  None of us would have any left.  It is pride that our Lord speaks of.  It is self-righteousness.  It is the self-deceit that convinces us we are great in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Pride is what we must cut away if we are to return to Christ as a needy child.

This idea is strengthened by the story of the Shepherd and the sheep in the wilderness.  Do we think we are valuable to God?  He will leave us to go into the mountains for one of these little, weak ones gone astray.  That’s how much He values the small and weak. 

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