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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 18

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-14

The New Community (18:1-35)

Great and Small in the Kingdom (18:1-14; Mark 9:33-49)

The Gospel by Mark sketches a very vivid picture of this episode, showing the disciples wholly occupied with the question of their own greatness and Jesus taking a little child in his arms and giving them an example. These details are lacking in Matthew. He includes only the question posed here by the disciples themselves, and the reply of Jesus.

What is it to "become like children"? In what sense is a little child "humble"? The little child knows himself to be small He does not pretend to be anything other than he is. He makes himself neither smaller nor greater than he is. Is that not true humility? One who sees himself in the light of his Father who is in heaven knows himself to be small. He is ready to take the lowest place in the Kingdom with joyous gratitude (see Mark 10:15).

To receive a little child in the name of Jesus, for the love of Jesus, is to receive Jesus himself. Jesus here stresses how precious the life of a child is in the eyes of God: to soil or to defile the soul of a child, or to disturb his faith, is a thing so serious that it would be better for a man to be put to death rather than to commit such a crime.

The saying of Jesus about scandals ("temptations," vs. 7) is a declaration: in this lost world which is a prey to sin, occasions of downfall abound. But woe to the one who causes another to fall! It would be better to remove a limb than to succumb to this temptation; this means to discern that within us which is secretly a party to this temptation and to consent to the necessary amputations (vss. 8-9; compare the same words, Matthew 5:29-30). The image employed by Jesus is radical, for to be deprived of a limb is a costly sacrifice which leaves us mutilated. But that is better than to allow gangrene to set in and corrupt the entire body. Hence, some privations or separations may be imperative for us even in relation to things which are quite legitimate in themselves but which expose us to danger. Each one must determine for himself the disciplines which are necessary to the health of his body and his spirit (see 1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

The "little ones" in verses 10-14 are doubtless, in the first instance, children (Matthew 18:1-6; Matthew 19:13-15), but the term includes those who resemble children the poor, the humble in heart "Little ones" often means merely "disciples."

In biblical tradition the angels are heavenly creatures which God sends to men as his servants and messengers. As heavenly counterparts they watch over believers. Those whom Jesus here calls "little ones" are the children of the Kingdom; their "angels" always gaze on the face of God.

The parable of the Lost Sheep (vss, 12-14) is given in more elaborate form in the Gospel by Luke. It refers there to the lost sheep of the house of Israel who are scorned by the Pharisees (Luke 15:1-7). Here Matthew seems to be thinking more of the little ones who are the weak members of the newborn community. God is not willing that any of them should perish. The return of a single one of these "little ones" who stray is a cause of great joy for the keeper of the flock. To be sure, for Matthew as for Luke this joy is felt "in heaven" (Luke 15:7), but it is also experienced in the Church.

Verses 15-35

Of Pardon (Matthew 18:15-35; compare Luke 17:3-4)

Here again, the thought concerns the new community established by Jesus. The question may be raised whether verses 15-17 go back to Jesus himself or whether they are the fruit of a later development In fact, the words "let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector" seem to be at variance with the merciful attitude of Jesus precisely with regard to Gentiles and tax collectors (Matthew 9:10-13). The Church, living in a pagan environment, had very early to impose certain disciplinary measures to safeguard the purity of the gospel (see 1 Corinthians 5:1-13). The passage here speaks of "brothers," that is, men who have accepted the gospel. On this account their conduct is more serious.

The brother is first to be reproved by the offended party alone with all due discretion. His bad conduct is not to be publicized. If he will not listen, then two or three witnesses are to confront him (see Deuteronomy 19:15). Finally, as a third step, he is to be brought before the whole assembled community. To treat him as "a Gentile" means to cast him out of the fellowship of the Church. This means concretely excommunication. To do this is to deliver him again to the powers of evil from which the preaching of the gospel had delivered him Does he not thereby become anew the object of evangelism?

Such is the meaning of verse 18, which we have encountered before (Matthew 16:19). But what is there said to Simon Peter is here spoken to the Christian community. The Word of God, of which the Church is the depository, has power to bind and to loose. It frees him who receives it; it casts back into slavery him who resists it.

Verses 19-20 contain a great and magnificent promise with regard to the prayer of believers: where two or three are united on "anything they ask" of God, they will obtain it, because it is to the Father of Jesus Christ and in the name of Jesus Christ that this prayer is made. The "name" in biblical language expresses the profound reality of a person. To speak or to act in the name of Jesus Christ is to invoke his presence and his power, it is to call upon that which he is, to conform the will to his. This is why Jesus can say that where two or three are met "in my name" he is present in the midst of them. This is also why their prayer is certain to be granted, for he himself inspires it and prays in them. He is their guarantor with his Father.

The Apostle Peter, once more the spokesman for his brothers, raises the question about pardon (vss. 21-22). Must one pardon seven times? Jesus replies, "Seventy times seven," which is a way of saying, always. The number recalls the ancient word of Lamech who avenged himself "seventy-sevenfold" (Genesis 4:24). To the absolute of vengeance is opposed the absolute of pardon Jesus illustrates his thought by telling a parable about an insolvent debtor for whom the creditor mercifully remitted his debt but who, upon going out, refused all mercy to an unfortunate one who owed him a tiny sum. The contrast between the two sums and the two attitudes constitutes the point of the parable. The relationship is that of ten million dollars to twenty dollars! How could one to whom God has given his grace crush his brother? There is no comparison possible between the pardon of God and that which we grant to others, no matter how great the offense sustained. One who does not pardon his neighbor excludes himself by that from communion with God. Jesus several times returns to this thought He who shuts out mercy shows thereby that he has understood nothing of the love of God, of the extraordinary pardon of which he himself is the object (Matthew 5:7; Matthew 5:43-48; Matthew 6:12-15),

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 18". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/matthew-18.html.
 
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