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|New American Bible|
2002 11 11
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1 At that time the disciples 2
approached Jesus and said, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"
He called a child over, placed it in their
and said, "Amen, I say to you, unless you
turn and become like children, 3 you will not enter the
kingdom of heaven.
Whoever humbles himself like this child is the
greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
4 And whoever receives one child such as this in
my name receives me.
"Whoever causes one of these little ones 5
who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone
hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
6 Woe to the world because of things that cause
sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!
If your hand or foot causes you to sin, 7
cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life maimed or
crippled than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into eternal fire.
And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out
and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye than
with two eyes to be thrown into fiery Gehenna.
8 "See that you do not despise one of these
little ones, 9 for I say to you that their angels in heaven
always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.
What is your opinion? If a man has a hundred
sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the
hills and go in search of the stray?
And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he
rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that did not stray.
In just the same way, it is not the will of
your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.
11 "If your brother 12
sins (against you), go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he
listens to you, you have won over your brother.
13 If he does not listen, take one or two others
along with you, so that 'every fact may be established on the testimony of two
or three witnesses.'
If he refuses to listen to them, tell the
church. 14 If he refuses to listen even to the church, then
treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
15 Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth
shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in
16 Again, (amen,) I say to you, if two of you
agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted
to them by my heavenly Father.
17 For where two or three are gathered together
in my name, there am I in the midst of them."
18 Then Peter approaching asked him, "Lord,
if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven
19 Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven
times but seventy-seven times.
That is why the kingdom of heaven may be
likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants.
20 When he began the accounting, a debtor was
brought before him who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back, his
master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his
property, in payment of the debt.
21 At that, the servant fell down, did him
homage, and said, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.'
Moved with compassion the master of that
servant let him go and forgave him the loan.
When that servant had left, he found one of his
fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. 22 He
seized him and started to choke him, demanding, 'Pay back what you owe.'
Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged
him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'
But he refused. Instead, he had him put in
prison until he paid back the debt.
Now when his fellow servants saw what had
happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the
His master summoned him and said to him, 'You
wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow
servant, as I had pity on you?'
Then in anger his master handed him over to the
torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. 23
24 So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless
each of you forgives his brother from his heart."
1 [1-35] This discourse of the fourth
book of the gospel is often called the "church order" discourse, but
it lacks most of the considerations usually connected with church order, such
as various offices in the church and the duties of each, and deals principally
with the relations that must obtain among the members of the church. Beginning
with the warning that greatness in the kingdom of heaven is measured not by
rank or power but by childlikeness (⇒ Matthew 18:1-5),
it deals with the care that the disciples must take not to cause the little
ones to sin or to neglect them if they stray from the community
(⇒ Matthew 18:6-14), the correction of members who
sin (⇒ Matthew 18:15-18), the efficacy of the
prayer of the disciples because of the presence of Jesus
(⇒ Matthew 18:19-20), and the forgiveness that must
be repeatedly extended to sinful members who repent
(⇒ Matthew 18:21-35).
2  The initiative is taken not by
Jesus as in the Marcan parallel (⇒ Mark 9:33-34) but
by the disciples. Kingdom of heaven: this may mean the kingdom in its fullness,
i.e., after the parousia and the final judgment. But what follows about causes
of sin, church discipline, and forgiveness, all dealing with the present age,
suggests that the question has to do with rank also in the church, where the
kingdom is manifested here and now, although only partially and by
anticipation; see the notes on ⇒ Matthew 3:2;
3  Become like children: the child
is held up as a model for the disciples not because of any supposed innocence
of children but because of their complete dependence on, and trust in, their
parents. So must the disciples be, in respect to God.
4  Cf ⇒ Matthew
5  One of these little ones: the thought
passes from the child of ⇒ Matthew 18:2-4 to the
disciples, little ones because of their becoming like children. It is difficult
to know whether this is a designation of all who are disciples or of those who
are insignificant in contrast to others, e.g., the leaders of the community.
Since apart from this chapter the designation little ones occurs in Matthew
only in ⇒ Matthew 10:42 where it means disciples as
such, that is its more likely meaning here. Who believe in me: since
discipleship is impossible without at least some degree of faith, this further
specification seems superfluous. However, it serves to indicate that the
warning against causing a little one to sin is principally directed against
whatever would lead such a one to a weakening or loss of faith. The Greek verb
skandalizein, here translated causes . . . to sin, means literally "causes
to stumble"; what the stumbling is depends on the context. It is used of
falling away from faith in ⇒ Matthew 13:21.
According to the better reading of ⇒ Mark 9:42, in
me is a Matthean addition to the Marcan source. It would be better . . . depths
of the sea: cf ⇒ Mark 9:42.
6  This is a Q saying; cf
⇒ Luke 17:1. The inevitability of things that cause
sin (literally, "scandals") does not take away the responsibility of
the one through whom they come. ⇒ Matthew 18:8-9
7  These verses are a doublet of
⇒ Matthew 5:29-30. In that context they have to do
with causes of sexual sin. As in the Marcan source from which they have been
drawn (⇒ Mark 9:42-48), they differ from the first
warning about scandal, which deals with causing another person to sin, for they
concern what causes oneself to sin and they do not seem to be related to
another's loss of faith, as the first warning is. It is difficult to know how
Matthew understood the logical connection between these verses and
⇒ Matthew 18:6-7.
8 [10-14] The first and last verses
are peculiar to Matthew. The parable itself comes from Q; see
⇒ Luke 15:3-7. In Luke it serves as justification
for Jesus' table-companionship with sinners; here, it is an exhortation for the
disciples to seek out fellow disciples who have gone astray. Not only must no
one cause a fellow disciple to sin, but those who have strayed must be sought
out and, if possible, brought back to the community. The joy of the shepherd on
finding the sheep, though not absent in ⇒ Matthew
18:13 is more emphasized in Luke. By his addition of ⇒ Matthew
18:10, ⇒ 14 Matthew has drawn out
explicitly the application of the parable to the care of the little ones.
9  Their angels in heaven . . .
my heavenly Father: for the Jewish belief in angels as guardians of nations and
individuals, see ⇒ Daniel 10:13,
⇒ 20-21; ⇒ Tobit 5:4-7;
1QH 5:20-22; as intercessors who present the prayers of human beings to God,
see ⇒ Tobit 13:12,
⇒ 15. The high worth of the little ones is
indicated by their being represented before God by these heavenly beings.
10  Some manuscripts add,
"For the Son of Man has come to save what was lost"; cf
⇒ Matthew 9:13. This is practically identical with
⇒ Luke 19:10 and is probably a copyist's addition
from that source.
11 [15-20] Passing from the duty of
Christian disciples toward those who have strayed from their number, the
discourse now turns to how they are to deal with one who sins and yet remains
within the community. First there is to be private correction
(⇒ Matthew 18:15); if this is unsuccessful, further
correction before two or three witnesses (⇒ Matthew
18:16); if this fails, the matter is to be brought before the
assembled community (the church), and if the sinner refuses to attend to the
correction of the church, he is to be expelled (⇒ Matthew
18:17). The church's judgment will be ratified in heaven, i.e., by
God (⇒ Matthew 18:18). This three-step process of
correction corresponds, though not exactly, to the procedure of the Qumran
community; see 1QS 5:25-6:1; 6:24-7:25; CD 9:2-8. The section ends with a
saying about the favorable response of God to prayer, even to that of a very
small number, for Jesus is in the midst of any gathering of his disciples,
however small (⇒ Matthew 18:19-20). Whether this
prayer has anything to do with the preceding judgment is uncertain.
12  Your brother: a fellow
disciple; see ⇒ Matthew 23:8. The bracketed words,
against you, are widely attested but they are not in the important codices
Sinaiticus and Vaticanus or in some other textual witnesses. Their omission
broadens the type of sin in question. Won over: literally, "gained."
13  Cf ⇒ Deut
14  The church: the second of the
only two instances of this word in the gospels; see the note on
⇒ Matthew 16:18. Here it refers not to the entire
church of Jesus, as in ⇒ Matthew 16:18, but to the
local congregation. Treat him . . . a Gentile or a tax collector: just as the
observant Jew avoided the company of Gentiles and tax collectors, so must the
congregation of Christian disciples separate itself from the arrogantly sinful
member who refuses to repent even when convicted of his sin by the whole
church. Such a one is to be set outside the fellowship of the community. The
harsh language about Gentile and tax collector probably reflects a stage of the
Matthean church when it was principally composed of Jewish Christians. That
time had long since passed, but the principle of exclusion for such a sinner
remained. Paul makes a similar demand for excommunication in
⇒ 1 Cor 5:1-13.
15  Except for the plural of the
verbs bind and loose, this verse is practically identical with
⇒ Matthew 16:19b and many scholars understand it as
granting to all the disciples what was previously given to Peter alone. For a
different view, based on the different contexts of the two verses, see the note
on ⇒ Matthew 16:19.
16 [19-20] Some take these verses as applying
to prayer on the occasion of the church's gathering to deal with the sinner of
⇒ Matthew 18:17. Unless an a fortiori argument is
supposed, this seems unlikely. God's answer to the prayer of two or three
envisages a different situation from one that involves the entire congregation.
In addition, the object of this prayer is expressed in most general terms as
anything for which they are to pray.
17  For where two or three . . .
midst of them: the presence of Jesus guarantees the efficacy of the prayer.
This saying is similar to one attributed to a rabbi executed in A.D. 135 at the
time of the second Jewish revolt: ". . . When two sit and there are
between them the words of the Torah, the divine presence (Shekinah) rests upon
them" (Pirqe Abot 3:3).
18 [21-35] The final section of the
discourse deals with the forgiveness that the disciples are to give to their
fellow disciples who sin against them. To the question of Peter how often
forgiveness is to be granted (⇒ Matthew 18:21),
Jesus answers that it is to be given without limit (⇒ Matthew
18:22) and illustrates this with the parable of the unmerciful
servant (⇒ Matthew 18:23-34), warning that his
heavenly Father will give those who do not forgive the same treatment as that
given to the unmerciful servant (⇒ Matthew 18:35).
⇒ Matthew 18:21-22 correspond to ⇒ Luke
17:4; the parable and the final warning are peculiar to Matthew. That
the Parable did not originally belong to this context is suggested by the fact
that it really does not deal with repeated forgiveness, which is the point of
Peter's question and Jesus' reply.
19  Seventy-seven times: the Greek
corresponds exactly to the LXX of ⇒ Genesis 4:24.
There is probably an allusion, by contrast, to the limitless vengeance of
Lamech in the Genesis text. In any case, what is demanded of the disciples is
20  A huge amount: literally,
"ten thousand talents." The talent was a unit of coinage of high but
varying value depending on its metal (gold, silver, copper) and its place of
origin. It is mentioned in the New Testament only here and in
⇒ Matthew 25:14-30.
21  Pay you back in full: an empty
promise, given the size of the debt.
22  A much smaller amount:
literally, "a hundred denarii." A denarius was the normal daily wage
of a laborer. The difference between the two debts is enormous and brings out
the absurdity of the conduct of the Christian who has received the great
forgiveness of God and yet refuses to forgive the relatively minor offenses
done to him.
23  Since the debt is so great as
to be unpayable, the punishment will be endless.
24  The Father's forgiveness,
already given, will be withdrawn at the final judgment for those who have not
imitated his forgiveness by their own.
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