Lectio Divina: Matthew 18:1-5,10,12-14
1) Opening prayer
Almighty and ever-living God,
Your Spirit made us Your children,
confident to call You Father.
Increase Your Spirit within us
and bring us to our promised inheritance.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14
The disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?” He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me. “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, 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.”
• Here, in Chapter 18 of the Gospel of Matthew begins the fourth great discourse on the New Law, the discourse on the community. As has already been said before (on Monday of the 10th week of the year), the Gospel of Matthew, written for the communities of the Christian Jews of Galilee and Syria, presents Jesus as the new Moses. In the Old Testament, the Law of Moses was codified in the five books of the Pentateuch. Imitating the ancient model, Matthew represents the New Law in five great discourses: (a) The Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:1-7, 29); (b) the discourse on the mission (Mt 10:1-42); (c) The discourse on the parables (Mt 13:1-52); (d) The discourse on the community (Mt 18:1-35); (e) The discourse on the future of the Kingdom (Mt 24:1-25,46). The narrative parts which are inserted among the five discourses describe the practice of Jesus and show how He practiced and embodied the New Law in His life.
• The Gospel today gives the first part of the discourse on the community (Mt 18:1-14) which has as key word “the little ones”. The little ones are not only the children, but also the poor, those who are not important in society and in the community, and also the children. Jesus asks that these “little ones” should always be the center of the concern of the communities because “The Father in Heaven does not will that one of these little ones should be lost” (Mt 18:14).
• Matthew 18:1: The question of the disciples which provokes the teaching of Jesus. The disciples want to know who is greater in the Kingdom. The simple fact of this question reveals that they have not understood anything or very little of the message of Jesus. The whole discourse on the community is given in order to make them understand that among the followers of Jesus the spirit of service should prevail, the gift of self, of pardon, of reconciliation and of gratuitous love, without seeking one’s own interest and one’s own advancement.
• Matthew 18:2-5: The fundamental criterion: the little one and the greater one. The disciples ask for a criteria so as to be able to measure the importance of the people in the community: “Who is the greater in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus answers that it is the little ones! The little ones are not socially important; they do not belong to the world of the powerful. The disciples have to become children. Instead of growing up, to the heights, they must grow down and toward the periphery, where the poor and the little ones live. In this way, they will be greater in the Kingdom! The reason is the following: “Anyone who receives one of these little ones receives Me”. Jesus identifies Himself with them. The love of Jesus for the little ones cannot be explained. Children have no merit. It is the complete gratuity of the love of God which manifests itself and asks to be imitated in the community of those who call themselves disciples of Jesus.
• Matthew 18:6-9: Do not scandalize the little ones. These four verses concerning the scandal to little ones are omitted from today’s Gospel. We give a brief commentary on them. To scandalize the little ones means this: to be the cause for them to lose their faith in God and to abandon the community. Matthew keeps a very hard saying of Jesus: “Anyone who scandalizes even one of these little ones who believe in Me, it would be better for him to have a mill stone tied around his neck and then be thrown into the sea”. It is a sign that at that time many little ones no longer identified themselves with the community and sought another refuge. And today, in Latin America, for example, every year approximately three million people abandon the historical Church and go to the Evangelical churches. This is a sign that they do not feel at home among us. What is lacking in us? What is the cause of this scandal to the little ones? In order to avoid the scandal, Jesus orders them to cut off their foot or take out their eye. This sentence cannot be taken literally. It means that we should be very firm, strict in fighting against any scandal which draws the little ones away. We cannot, in any way, allow that the little ones feel marginalized in our community, because in this case, the community would not be a sign of the Kingdom of God.
• Matthew 18:10-11: The angels of the little ones see the face of the Father. Jesus recalls Psalm 91. The little ones take Yahweh as their refuge and make the most High their fortress (Ps 91:9) and because of this, “No disaster can overtake you, no plague come near your tent; He has given angels orders about you to guard you wherever you go. They will carry you in their arms in case you trip over a stone” (Ps 91:10,12).
• Matthew 18:12-14: The parable of the one hundred sheep. According to Luke, this parable reveals the joy of God on the conversion of a sinner (Lk 15: 3-7). According to Matthew, it reveals that the Father does not want even one of the little ones to be lost. In other words, the little ones should be the pastoral priority of the community, of the Church. They should be in the center of the concern of all. Love for the little ones and the excluded should be the axis of the community of those who want to follow Jesus, because it is in this way that the community becomes the proof of the gratuitous love of God, who accepts all.
4) Personal questions
• Who are the poorest people of our neighborhood? Do they participate in our community? Do they feel at home or do they find in us a cause to withdraw?
• God the Father does not want any of the little ones to get lost. What does this mean for our community?
• Should the pastor of a community spend his time on the “little ones” in the community, the poor and neglected, or on the rich who might be able to provide for the economics of the community? Is there a balance, or is “balance” just another word for compromise – a compromise on Jesus’ instructions? Does your answer also apply to members of the community as well?
• Many who leave the Church do so because of disagreement over teachings, such as the Church’s stand on abortion or remarriage. Some believe that there is no such thing as sin. How could, or should, the community bring these “lost sheep” back, without sacrificing the truth?
5) Concluding Prayer
Your instructions are my eternal heritage,
they are the joy of my heart.
I devote myself to obeying Your statutes,
their recompense is eternal. (Ps 119:111-112)