Jesus Teaches us how to Treat Those who Harm us
Jesus’ disciples were sure if they followed Jesus long enough they would become famous! That’s what they really wanted! Someday they would sit on golden thrones in heaven and the world would bow down to Jesus and to them. But they were still arguing among themselves as to which one of them would be the greatest and the most important? Once before they had fussed with each other about which one would be the top man in heaven and Jesus hadn’t commented. So they asked Him outright: “Who will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1) And Jesus shook his head and tried to teach his disciples some lessons about humility.
Jesus called a little child over and as the child stood there with Jesus in front of the disciples, Jesus answered their question: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like a little child, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this one in My Name welcomes Me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a millstone hung around his neck and be drowned in the sea.” (Matthew 18:3-6)
Children are humble and unpretentious. And Jesus is calling his followers to be like little children and simply trust and depend on God. The way to greatness in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus is saying, is to become like little children and be harmless and meek. I don’t think the disciples were expecting Jesus to give them that answer. And perhaps we followers of Jesus today don’t want to hear him when He calls us to be like a little child. We are too busy jockeying among ourselves to be one of the “important” people-and we compete with our fellow workers to be on top – or to be the greatest!
But Jesus is teaching us that we are to put all of that aside when we follow Him. If we welcome a little child or the sick, the person in prison, the grieving and the needy, we welcome Him. And Jesus says we should not harm or lead astray one of these little ones and cause them to sin. And then Jesus starts talking about offenses. He says: “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” (Matthew 18:7)
God created us humans to be united as one big family. But that unity is strained and often broken by these offenses that Jesus spoke about. And it breaks God’s heart to see his beloved children throwing away that unity – throwing away family. God commands us to treat one another with love and fairness. And He gives us his Holy Spirit to help us do that. But we can throw it all away when our feelings get hurt or when we disagree with a loved one or when we are treated unfairly!
Arguments and disagreements can surface quickly and tear apart the unity of the family that God put together. And wars and violence tear the fabric of the human family even more. So Jesus is saying: “Woe to the person through whom they (harmful offenses, violence, etc.) come” I think Jesus is saying that his followers are to be peaceful, childlike and humble and not insult or hurt or be offensive to one another when they disagree. They are to do their best to protect the unity of believers and the peaceful relationships with all people.
Then Jesus tells three parables that have the same theme. They all teach about how God wants us to behave toward one another. First Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep. (Matthew 18:10-14) The Good Shepherd has one hundred sheep and one sheep is lost. Is this sheep lost and missing because of sin or missing in a relationship? Jesus doesn’t say. But the shepherd doesn’t write that sheep off. He goes out all night long, leaving the ninety-nine behind and he searches over the hills and through the valleys looking for his one lost sheep. And when he finds it he is excited and rejoices and throws a party.
Isn’t Jesus telling us here that every lost person is very important to God? Important enough for Him to frantically search for the lost one through the long dark night! Jesus reminds the disciples about who He is and what his mission is about. Jesus tells them: “The Son of Man has come to search for and save that which is lost.” (Matthew 18:11)
Since the lost are so important to our Lord and since He searches all night to bring them back, shouldn’t the lost be important to us too? Important enough for us to go out into our dark night looking and praying and grieving until we find these lost ones and bring them back into unity -the unity of family –or the unity of the body of Christ? Unless the missing refuses to come back and wants to remain missing that is. Isn’t Jesus telling his disciples that the greatest in the kingdom of heaven are the ones who join our Lord in searching for those who are lost in their midst?
Right after Jesus tells the story of the lost sheep, He tells the parable of the sinning brother. This is another story about how we should deal with relationships that have been strained or broken. Jesus advises that we show the brother his fault and then take several others with us if he doesn’t listen to us the first time. Finally we even bring the matter up to the church and get their help in bringing back peaceful relations between ourselves and our brother(or sister).
Jesus says that if the brother refuses to reconcile even when the church is there encouraging him to, we may have to forget him! Here is what Jesus says to do if the brother will not reconcile: “treat him as you would a pagan or a (hated) tax collector.” (Matthew 18:17b) That sounds pretty hopeless doesn’t it? Is that really what the Lord wants? I don’t think so!
But then Jesus immediately adds: “But I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18-19) Is Jesus telling us here that if we pray for these seemingly “hopeless” situations – the situation where the brother or close relative refuses to reconcile – that we will have what we ask for?– that what we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven? If we will love the one who hates us and forgive and pray that God will change his heart, then we will have what we ask for. It doesn’t say how long that might take but it will happen! I do believe that that is what Jesus is saying here! What do you think?
It seems Jesus is telling us to work and pray hard at straightening out problems that have caused a strain or break in a close relationship, even by using help from others if possible. We are an individualistic society and many times when we have been treated badly by another person (or we have hurt them) we feel hurt and we criticize behind the other persons’ back. And never deal with the person face to face and try to reconcile or clear up bad feelings. And the community usually leaves it alone. So the problem is never resolved and the unity and love that was meant to be is never restored.
Jesus finishes with a third parable, the parable of the unmerciful servant. This servant had an enormous debt of ten thousand talents that he owed to the king. And since he couldn’t pay his debt he and his family were about to be thrown into prison forever.. But the servant fell down on his knees and begged the king to forgive his huge debt and amazingly the king took pity on him and forgave him the whole ten thousand talents.
The servant was free and forgiven! A great burden had been lifted from his soul! Overjoyed he danced out of the court but then he just happened to see a man who owed him a very small amount of money. The smile disappeared from the servant’s face and a scowl replaced it. “Pay me my money immediately or go to prison” the forgiven man snarled! The poor man who owed him the tiny debt fell down on his face and begged for more time to pay. But the unmerciful servant refused to listen to his cries for help and threw him and his family in prison.
Jesus is telling his disciples that since our heavenly Father is merciful to us and forgives all of our sins, that we are to be children of our Father and be merciful to the people who sin against us and forgive them too.– write off what they owe us. Move on. Peter asks Jesus: “Lord how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” And Jesus answers: “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew18:21-22)
Jesus taught many lessons in Matthew 18 concerning how we are to love each other and how we are to treat those who harm us. How we are to forgive and forgive again and how in all our dealings we are to have a humble heart like a child. Jesus invites us to join Him in going out and searching for those who are lost. And He tells us that if we care enough what we bind on earth will be bound in heaven! That He will answer our prayers for the lost. Jesus begs us to live in peace and He gives us his Holy Spirit to speed us along the way. While we are on this earth people may harm us and some will offend us. But Jesus calls us to take his lessons from Matthew 18 to heart and to live out our lives in peace and love. Can we do it?