Saturday, July 22, 2017

Fresh Look at Matthew: Matthew 18 in total

I have decided to post all of my thoughts on Matthew 18 at once.  After this I will take a short break from posting about Matthew, not because I have no content but because the notes are in long-hand and I have to type them up.  Eventually the whole book of Matthew will be finished and then I plan to self-publish it as daily readings for a period of six months or more. This is a long post. 

What strikes me is that these verses are about relationship and how we live in community, good or bad.  Part of the problem with discussing such things is that we have, without recognizing it, such a cultural bias against community in favor of individualism.

So where does this start?  It starts by not even thinking in terms of status.  The disciples have the raw hutzpah to ask Jesus who would be the greatest among them.  This may be out of chronological order since there doesn’t seem to be a connection to the previous account (about the fish) .  Maybe it was something they worried about at other times and Matthew just inserted it here. Did they sit around and concern themselves with such a question? 

The answer is not what they want and is pretty enigmatic.  Children had no status, although they were valued to the Jews.  We can look at different translations here.  Truly, unless you change—are converted—turn around—repent—are the verbs active or passive?  The movement is toward that of a child, in some manner.  Like Nicodemus asked, how can I get back to that age?  What is the key characteristic of a child here, since children can be petty and sinful, rebellious and desirous of what they can’t have, just like adults. 

I think the emphasis is trusting, humble, unconcerned about status and one-up-manship.  Perhaps the focus is on the parent; a child runs to the parent and depends on the parent. 

Whichever way one wants to go with the interpretation, I am sure the disciples were a little frustrated about this.  He didn’t answer their question, and he put them in their places.  And he didn’t stop there.  He used the child (we overlook that fact there was a child handy for this object lesson) to start talking about child-rearing.  Didn’t he know they were concerned about the big picture, not the little kids?  No, Jesus said; if you lead a child into sin at a young age, you are condemning them to a life of problems.

A woman in my life group class lost her son, who was homeless, in a building fire where other homeless people were squatting.  It took the police several years to finally close the case and decide what happened to him. It is a tragic story.  He was a drug addict and alcoholic since he was ten years old.  Who gave a ten-year-old access to alcohol?  In Jesus words, this person who thought it was funny to get a child stoned or drunk would be better off with a millstone around their neck. A severe pronouncement.

Interestingly, Jesus is setting up a standard that didn’t really get taken seriously until the mid-1800s with the end of child labor laws.  Of course, we have gone too far in this protection of children from all realities of life.  The media plastered a photo of the Dugger children doing chores and saying, How could she?  What mother doesn’t make her child contribute to the household?  We have gone from the ancient “Ignore children” to “Put your child on the Internet for everyone to see.”    

Matthew 18 is about the spiritual version of and balance to this quote by Hugh Prather:  An argument is always about what has been made more important than the relationship.  Relationship is always balanced with truth in the Christian world view.  Truth and righteousness are more important, except that one of the truths is that relationship is paramount.  How is that for a paradox?  Speak the truth in love.  So whenever there is a relational problem, the solution is the application of truth.  Of course, some things are more important than relationship if the relationship is toxic or sinful.  When the relationship is awry it’s from a deficit of truth. 

So where does this leave us?  Mend and seek to mend all relationships by all means available unless the other person persists in being unwilling to mend it.  They have choice.  The details are how long you let this persistence go on.  I might advocate for a shorter period than others do. 

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