18 Around that same time, the disciples came to Jesus and questioned Him about the kingdom of heaven.
A Disciple: In the kingdom of heaven, who is the greatest?
The disciples struggle with the concept of the kingdom of heaven. They do not yet understand that who is most important or most powerful is a contradiction in terms. This is the fourth of the five great sermons in Matthew.
2 Jesus called over a little child. He put His hand on the top of the child’s head.
Jesus: 3 This is the truth: unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 In that kingdom, the most humble who are most like this child are the greatest. 5 And whoever welcomes a child, welcomes her in My name, welcomes Me. 6 And do not lead astray one of the weak and friendless who believes in Me. If you do, it would be better for you to be dragged down with a millstone and drowned in the bottom of the sea.
7 Beware indeed of those in a world filled with obstacles and temptations that cause people to turn away from Me. Those temptations are woven into the fabric of a world not yet redeemed, but beware to anyone who lures righteous women and men off the narrow path. 8 If your hand constantly grasps at the things of this world rather than serves the Kingdom—cut it off and throw it away. If your foot is always leading you to wander, then cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to hobble, crippled, into the kingdom of life than to burn in hell with two hands and two feet. 9 And if your eye always focuses on things that cause you to sin, then pull your eye out and throw it away. It is better for you to see the kingdom of life with one eye than to see the fires of hell with perfect sight.
10 Make sure that you do not look down on the little ones, on those who are further behind you on the path of righteousness. For I tell you: they are watched over by those most beloved messengers who are always in the company of My Father in heaven. [11 The Son of Man has come to save all those who are lost.][a] 12 A shepherd in charge of 100 sheep notices that one of his sheep has gone astray. What do you think he should do? Should the shepherd leave the flock on the hills unguarded to search for the lost sheep? God’s shepherd goes to look for that one lost sheep, 13 and when he finds her, he is happier about her return than he is about the 99 who stayed put. 14 Your Father in heaven does not want a single one of the tripped, waylaid, stumbling little ones to be lost.
The wisdom of the world says the shepherd should forget that one missing sheep and chalk it up as a loss. In God’s economy, each soul has its own value apart from all others. Jesus calls the people of His kingdom to help the weak and the friendless, the small and the frail, the mute and the poor, the ugly and the disfigured.
Jesus: 15 This is what you do if one of your brothers or sisters sins against you: go to him, in private, and tell him just what you perceive the wrong to be. If he listens to you, you’ve won a brother. 16 But sometimes he will not listen. And if he does not listen, go back, taking a friend or two friends with you (for, as we have learned in Deuteronomy, every matter of communal import should be testified to by two or three witnesses).[b] 17 Then, if your brother or sister still refuses to heed, you are to share what you know with the entire church; and if your brother or sister still refuses to listen to the entire church, you are to cast out your unrepentant sibling and consider him no different from outsiders and tax collectors.
What God desires most is not the casting out of an unrepentant member, but loving chastisement for the sake of bringing the sinful back to God.
18 Remember this: whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 And this: if two or three of you come together as a community and discern clearly about anything, My Father in heaven will bless that discernment. 20 For when two or three gather together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.
Peter: 21 Lord, when someone has sinned against me, how many times ought I forgive him? Once? Twice? As many as seven times?
Jesus: 22 You must forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven.
The response of Jesus is like the story of Lamech in Genesis. He was Adam and Eve’s great-great-great-great-grandson who had two wives. One day he said to his wives, “Wives of Lamech, I need to tell you something! I killed a man who struck me. Surely Lamech must be avenged seventy-seven times” (Genesis 4:23–24). In this new Kingdom of forgiveness, we reverse and invert Lamech’s plan. As Christians, we should forgive others’ transgressions more readily than the world would avenge them.
Jesus: 23 If you want to understand the kingdom of heaven, think about a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 Just as the king began to get his accounts in order, his assistants called his attention to a slave who owed a huge sum to him—what a laborer might make in 500 lifetimes.[c] 25 The slave, maybe an embezzler, had no way to make restitution, so the king ordered that he, his wife, their children, and everything the family owned be sold on the auction block; the proceeds from the slave sale would go toward paying back the king. 26 Upon hearing this judgment, the slave fell down, prostrated himself before the king, and begged for mercy: “Have mercy on me, and I will somehow pay you everything.” 27 The king was moved by the pathos of the situation, so indeed he took pity on the servant, told him to stand up, and then forgave the debt.
28 But the slave went and found a friend, another slave, who owed him about a hundred days’ wages.[d] “Pay me back that money,” shouted the slave, throttling his friend and shaking him with threats and violence. 29 The slave’s friend fell down prostrate and begged for mercy: “Have mercy on me, and I will somehow pay you everything.” 30 But the first slave cackled and was hard-hearted and refused to hear his friend’s plea. He found a magistrate and had his friend thrown into prison “where,” he said, “you will sit until you can pay me back.” 31 The other servants saw what was going on. They were upset, so they went to the king and told him everything that had happened.
32 The king summoned the slave, the one who had owed so much money, the one whose debt the king had forgiven. The king was livid. “You slovenly scum,” he said, seething with anger. “You begged me to forgive your debt, and I did. 33 What would be the faithful response to such latitude and generosity? Surely you should have shown the same charity to a friend who was in your debt.”
34 The king turned over the unmerciful slave to his brigade of torturers, and they had their way with him until he should pay his whole debt. 35 And that is what My Father in heaven will do to you, unless you forgive each of your brothers and each of your sisters from the very cockles of your heart.