Real Bible Studies: Matthew 18, Mark 9

The Greatest

In both Gospels, the Disciples ask Yeshua who’ll be greatest. As is usual, Matthew puts a slightly different spin on it than Mark. In Mark, the question is posed in such a way to imply the Disciples are asking which is the greatest among them, but Matthew frames it as the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. From there, both realign with Yeshua’s response that to be great, they must become as a child. This is a restatement of Yeshua’s message that the first shall be last.

Mark, then, continues his hodgepodge of stories by having the Disciples tell of another exorcist expelling demons in Yeshua’s name. They told him to stop, but Yeshua takes them to task by stating that whoever does work in his name won’t be able to speak badly of him later. This is another familiar theme from both Gospels.

Temptation to Sin

Matthew and Mark both return to the example of the children, in this case in the context of sin. Yeshua cautions the Disciples that anyone who tempts one of the children to sin is better off drowned than alive. Mark goes into considerable detail while Matthew summarizes the various paths to sin (eyes, hands, etc.) before Mark concludes with a confusing passage about salt that he doesn’t have Yeshua clarify. One possible reason Matthew rewrote significant portions of Mark was because they don’t always make sense in Mark’s Gospel. Obviously, anyone who doesn’t read Ancient Greek will be reading one of the many translations of the Bible that exist, all with subtle differences to the story, but the passages themselves vary significantly in clarity. The salt analogy is a perfect example of Mark muddling the message though it’s also possible Mark is using a contemporary expression that’s lost its meaning over time.

Matthew segues into the parable of the lost sheep and frames the discussion as another sermon. From this he turns to forgiveness returning to Yeshua’s theme of mercy instead of sacrifice. The lost sheep represent followers who have sinned and the joy it brings when they repent. He then expands on it with various examples of forgiveness, stating that what one has wrought on Earth will be given in heaven. Peter asks how many times it’s proper to forgive a brother who has sinned against him and Yeshua tells him seventy times seven.

Matthew has Yeshua conclude with the parable of the unforgiving servant. A ruler demands payment from his servant who begs for time to make good on the debt. The king is moved and grants the request, but, when the servant is confronted with one who owes him, he has the man imprisoned. Hearing of it, the king then orders the unforgiving servant imprisoned because he didn’t learn from his example.

The overarching meaning inherent in Yeshua’s insistence on mercy over sacrifice is most likely tied to the circumstances Matthew’s congregation found itself in following the destruction of the Temple and the sack of Jerusalem. They no longer had a conduit through which they could atone for their discretions, so it was incumbent on them to forgive one another rather than carry out rituals to atone for their individual sins. Matthew has Yeshua reinterpret the Law for the congregation rather than abolish it. In this way, Matthew is attempting to show them a way forward despite the turmoil of losing their entire lifestyle. This, above all, is the message of Matthew’s Gospel.

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