Gospel of Matthew 18
On the same occasion the disciples came to Jesus, and asked him: “Who is really the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 Jesus called a little child to him, and placed it in the middle of them, and then said: 3 “I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven at all. 4 Therefore, all who humble themselves like this child shall be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And anyone who, for the sake of my name, welcomes even one little child like this, is welcoming me.”
6 “But, if anyone who puts a snare in the way of one of these lowly ones who believe in me, it would be best for them to be sunk in the depths of the sea, with a great millstone hung round their neck. 7 Woe to the world because of such snares! There cannot but be snares; yet woe to you who is answerable for the snare! 8 If your hand or your foot is a snare to you, cut it off, and throw it away. It would be better for you to enter the life maimed or lame, than to have both hands, or both feet, and be thrown into the Aeonian fire.”
9 “If your eye is a snare to you, take it out, and throw it away. It would be better for you to enter into life with only one eye, than to have both eyes thrown into the fiery pit. 10 Beware of despising one of these lowly ones, for in heaven, I tell you, their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. 11 For the Son of Man is come to save that which was lost.”
12 “What do you think? If you owned a hundred sheep, and one of them strayed, would you not leave the ninety–nine on the hills, and go and search for the one that is straying? 13 And, if you succeed in finding it, I tell you that you would rejoice more over that one sheep than over the ninety–nine which did not stray. 14 So, too, it is the will of my Father, who is in heaven, that not one of these lowly ones should be lost.”
15 “If your brother or sister does wrong, go to them and convince them of their fault when you are alone together. If you are listened to, you have won them over. 16 But, if you are not listened to, take with you one or two others, so that ‘on the evidence of two or three witnesses, every word may be put beyond dispute.’ 17 If they are refused also, speak to the church; and, if the church is refused, treat the wrong–doer as you would a Gentile or a tax–gatherer.”
18 “I tell you, all that you forbid on earth will be held in heaven to be forbidden, and all that you allow on earth will be held in heaven to be allowed. 19 Again, I tell you that, if but two of you on earth agree as to what they shall pray for, whatever it be, it will be granted them by my Father who is in heaven. 20 For where two or three have come together in my name, I am present with them.”
To continue reading Chapter 22 of the Gospel of Matthew, please click on page 2 below.
And forgive us our trespasses…
(Removing Our Hindrances Part II)
We’ve just described our journey toward a life in Christ as a rising. But the act of “rising” (such as rising above petty arguments and concerns) can sometimes get us into trouble, especially we Christians. The reason is that when we rise toward our divinity, we often look down on others with a misguided sense of superiority.1 Jesus condones none of that. He knocks us off our pedestals by insisting that we wash the feet of others if we are to have any part of him.2
To keep us grounded Jesus also teaches that our rebirth in Christ is owed to both spirit and water.3 This lesson is one that’s largely been forgotten. Most Christians today see water simply as an accoutrement to the ritual of baptism, forgetting that the performance of rituals was something that Jesus only grudgingly accepted—for he knew how often they become codified into new forms of idolatry.
We can see such idolatry in the way the Pharisees rigidly held to their laws of the Sabbath.4 When it came to baptism, Jesus saw it as something which needed to be done for the sake of the community, rather than for himself—telling John the Baptist they must suffer the task so as to “satisfy every claim of religion.”5 In other words, Jesus allowed himself to be baptized to fulfill the religious expectations of Israel, so that their minds would remain open to receiving the gospel of Christ.
That the heavens are said to have literally opened up during Jesus’s baptism, with the Holy Spirit descending on his head like a dove,6 does not mean that we are magically turned into Christians during this ritual. Instead, these metaphors are used to illustrate water’s essential role in our spiritual transformation.
To understand why Jesus says that our rebirth in Christ is owed to water, we must look at water as a parable, or character in a story. Water’s narrative is that it likes to follow the path of least resistance. Likewise, the Holy Spirit seeks the path of least resistance as we remove the hindrances7 that block Christ from entering our lives.
Throughout Christendom this teaching has been driven under ground by a litany of ignoble wars, fire and brimstone preachers, and overzealous missionaries. But no person has ever been led to Christ through violence, threats, or intimidation, only by experiencing the Holy Spirit as it flows effortlessly from the souls of others.
How easily we forget Jesus’s admonition to turn the other cheek; to not resist wrongs; to give our possessions to those who want to sue us; and walk two miles with those who compel us to go but one.8 In other words, to pass through this life like water.
Rather than accept the path of least resistance, we often strike out on the course of greatest resistance, confusing the lesser path with one of weakness. What we fail to recognize (but what Jesus was well aware of) is that water has another defining characteristic. It has the dammed up potential to flow forward with great force, when its hindrances are pulled away, forever altering the landscape below the break. Likewise, the Holy Spirit has tremendous power to transform lives, to create a holy current that will carry along others and make us true “fishers of men,” As Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers—Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew—casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 “Come and follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 The two men left their nets at once and followed him.9 if we but remove the obstacles in its path.
When we pray “forgive us our trespasses” we are beginning…
The Lord’s Prayer. To continue reading, click on page 2 at the bottom.
- Speaking to people who were satisfied that they were religious, and who regarded everyone else with scorn, Jesus told this parable. – Luke 18:9 [↩]
- If I, then—‘the Master’ and ‘the Teacher’—have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet; 15 For I have given you an example, so that you may do just as I have done to you. – John 13:14-15 [↩]
- “In truth I tell you,” answered Jesus, “unless you owe your birth to water and spirit, you cannot enter the kingdom of God. – John 3:5 [↩]
- Jesus walked through the corn-fields one Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and began to pick some ears of wheat and eat them. 2 But, when the Pharisees saw this, they said: “Look! your disciples are doing what it is not allowable to do on a Sabbath!” 3 “Have not you read,” replied Jesus, “what David did, when he and his companions were hungry. 4 How he went into the house of God, and how they ate the consecrated bread, though it was not allowable for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests? 5 And have not you read in the law that, on the Sabbath, the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and yet are not guilty? 6 Here, however, I tell you, there is something greater than the temple! 7 And had you learned the meaning of the words: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned those who are not guilty. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:1–8 [↩]
- Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to see John and be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to prevent him. “It is I,” he said, “who need to be baptized by you; and yet you come to me?” 15 “Suffer it be so for the present,” Jesus answered, “since it is fitting for us thus to satisfy every claim of religion.” – Mark 3:1315 [↩]
- Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens rent apart, and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. – Mark 1:9-10 [↩]
- Blessed are those who find no hindrance in me. – Luke 7:23 [↩]
- I, however, say to you that you must not resist wrongs; but, if others should strike you on the right cheek, turn the other to them also; 40 And, when people want to go to law with you to take your coat, let them have your cloak as well; 41 And, if anyone compels you to go one mile, go two miles with them. – Matthew 5:39–41 [↩]
- Matthew 4:18-20 [↩]
But deliver us from evil…
(Overcoming Our Egos)
When pride is overcome, we cure a symptom of our separation from God not its root cause. We are like the frog born at the bottom of the well, who is unaware of the larger world that exists beyond the walls of his home. These walls are what psychologists have come to call the ego, and the well itself what Jesus (lacking our modern lingo) called the pit, where the fire (i.e. our desire) is never quenched.1 It is what some have called our “original sin”. Yet “sin” is the wrong word. For sins are connected to choices. And we did not choose to be placed in the well—although it is our choice whether or not we remain there.
The well is better described as our original condition. And Jesus’s entire ministry was about teaching others to overcome it. Asking us to abandon our egos though is a tough sell. Because while we know that egoism leads to pride, hate, violence, theft, adultery and every evil under the sun,2 we also believe that our egos define who we are. We think that if we lose our ego, we will lose our identity; and we are offended by those who suggest otherwise.
This offense that we take is registered in the Gospel of John during the story of the Last Supper—the last fellowship for Jesus before he crucifies his ego, abandons the well, and experiences full consciousness in Christ. At the dinner table, the disciples cry out against the “harsh doctrine” they are being taught.3 Their shock is not over the eating of the flesh and blood of the Son of Man (as those are just metaphors), but that in becoming “united” with Christ that they will lose their sense of self.
We, like the disciples, consider our egos as being solid and permanent. That is the devilish illusion. For if we look back upon our lives, we find that the person we identify as “me” changes as we grow. The middle–aged man or woman often looks with strange fascination toward the person they were at eighteen, just as the senior does toward their middle–aged self. Sometimes we cannot even believe the person we were yesterday!
These changes are all evidence of the Holy Spirit at work, as it pushes us to recognize the vast kingdom that exists outside the well in which we live. When we overcome the well, we don’t lose ourselves, but expand our realities of place and self to include joys and experiences that were beyond our imagination. We leave our ego identity behind to discover our soul’s identity,4 which is ever growing and limitless.
Our journey out of the well is symbolized by Jesus’s teaching of the cross, and the Gospel writers’ depiction of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection. Whether Jesus was actually crucified or not is a matter that can be left to personal belief. What is to be recognized is that even if Jesus were not crucified by the Romans, we would have had to do it ourselves for the sake of the gospel story. Because in order to understand the profound depth of Jesus’s renunciation of the ego, we need a crucifixion parable to guide us.
Parables are able to provoke that “aha” experience we get when…
The Lord’s Prayer. To continue reading, click on page 2 at the bottom.
- It would be better for you to enter the kingdom of God with only one eye, than to have both eyes and be thrown into the pit: 48 Where the worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched. – Mark 9:47-48 [↩]
- For it is from within, out of the hearts of men, that there come evil thoughts: unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, 22 Greed, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, haughtiness, folly; 23 All these wicked things come from within, and do defile a man.” – Mark 7:21–23 [↩]
- On hearing it, many of his disciples said: “This is harsh doctrine! Who can bear to listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, aware that his disciples were murmuring about it, said to them: 62 “Does this offend you?” – John 6:60–62 [↩]
- He must become greater, and I less. 31 He who comes from above is above all others; but a child of earth is earthly, and his teaching is earthly, too. He who comes from heaven is above all others. – John 3:30–31 [↩]