17 November 2011

Matthew 18:1-9

"Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes!" (v. 7)


Time and again Jesus' disciples get the wrong idea about his message and yet still they follow and still Jesus accepts them as friends. Here they are discussing who the greatest is in the kingdom of heaven, perhaps prompted by the fact that Jesus only took three of them up the mountain to witness his transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13). And even though he warned them not to say anything it's hard to imagine that one of them didn't let something slip to the rest of the group. So Jesus brings a child amongst them and encourages the disciples to copy their humility.

Now, either children were very different in first century Palestine or Jesus doesn't know much about children. They are so often consumed with who is the fastest, or prettiest, or who's got the biggest slice of cake or the best toy. "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" sounds like a pretty childish question. Perhaps there is another childlike quality that Jesus is alluding to - that ability to live fully in the present, experiencing life deeply without concern with what happened yesterday or worrying about what will happen tomorrow. A child can run joyfully with total abandon across a beach, delighting in the splashing of the waves and falling exhausted, giggling into the sand in a way that most adults are far to uptight and concerned about self-image to emulate.

If this childlike wonder is the way to the kingdom of heaven then there will be so many times when we stumble and fall, make mistakes and fail. That's OK, Jesus accepts that there will be times of stumbling. He reserves his harshest warning not for those who run with joy and fullness of life - making mistakes along the way - but for those who cause the stumbling. He strongly condemns those who set up obstacles in the way of people who seek to live that life of delight, wonder and joy.

To Ponder

What helps you live a life of childlike wonder and joy?

In what ways do others put obstacles in the path of those who seek to live that life? And in what ways do you put such obstacles in the way?

Bible notes author

The Revd Ric Stott

Ric Stott is a Methodist minister and works for the Sheffield Methodist District as a Venture FX pioneer exploring new ways of being church, based around the creative arts. He is an artist and art psychotherapist, and is particularly interested in how creativity can help us to explore and develop spirituality, identity and community.