For an introduction to this series, click here.
Dec. 28, 2006This chapter begins with the disciples wondering who would be the greatest in the Kingdom. Jesus calls a little child and says that the one who humbles himself like this child will be greatest in the Kingdom. This may mean many things, but one thing it surely means is that God is not impressed by our noise and pomp. He wants us to come to Him with the simplicity and joy of a little child. Kids don't care about most of the things we adults care about. Kids wake up in a new world every day, and they are excited about whatever comes along.
Next Jesus gives a dire warning: "And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire."(18:8-9, ESV)
Being saved or lost is a very serious thing, that we often take too lightly. We treasure our hands and feet and eyes. But Jesus says those things are expendable compared to missing heaven.
Next we have a simple parable about the lost sheep. Obviously this parable is teaching God's great love for us. He sought for us when we were lost and away from Him. I have heard some people go farther and say that the shepherd who goes after the one lost sheep is crazy, that no one would risk 99 over getting one back. And the point of the parable is that is how passionately God loves us. I'm not sure, but it is an interesting idea.
Finally we have the story of the unforgiving servant. A king was going over his books and found that one of his servants owed him 10,000 talents. This is an insane amount of money- several billion dollars. Nobody could even dream of paying the money back. The king forgave the man the debt. The relieved man went out and found somebody that owed him 100 denarii, and grabbed him and demanded his money now. This is not an insignificant amount of money. The denarius (plural denarii) was a standard laborer's day's wage. A good rule of thumb is to think of a denarius as $50 in today's money. I know minimum wage laws change and inflation happens and all that, but it still works for now. So that means the guy owed $5,000 in our money. The man who was forgiven had the man thrown in debtor's prison. Then the king had the man he had forgiven thrown in prison, because he did not show mercy to his neighbor.
For some reason the Authorized Version (KJV) translators thought they would make some money values easier for the common people to understand, so they traded out the word "denarius" (that's the exact word in the Greek) for the English word "penny." This is less than helpful. When you are teaching it, you have to first of all explain that "penny" means "denarius," and then you have to explain what a denarius is. This is an unnecessary extra step which usually only serves to confuse people. I know that has nothing to do with the story, but if you're reading the KJV you might not have any idea what Jesus is talking about. This story is more clear, but there are plenty of times when money is mentioned and the English coin names just don't make any sense at all.
Getting back to the parable, this is an important lesson for us to learn. Even if we are reading the KJV, we understand that 10,000 talents is obviously a lot more than 100 pence. In the same way we owe God an impossible debt- a debt of a lifetime of sin. Yet God, through Jesus Christ, has forgiven us that debt. Yet when people do us wrong, and yes even when they deserve it, we need to realize that they are just a sinner like us, and that instead of trying to get revenge we need to forgive.