Reflecting on Matthew 18 1-9

What does Jesus mean – seem to mean – by the symbol of the “little child”? That seems to be the question that perplexes everyone when it comes to the text we’re studying this week, Matthew 18:1-9. Although I confess, I’m also fairly perplexed about what constitutes scandalizing (or offending, or making a stumbling block for) the little ones, and who might be doing that – especially because I’m hoping it isn’t me. Some notes on the text are here, and here are a couple of more specific questions we might want to think about or discuss in class, in addition to whatever other questions are on our minds when it comes to this text:

What are some of the associations we ourselves have with children? And what all have we heard from others that “a little child” seems to symbolize here? Can we think of other places children appear in scripture? With all that in mind, what do we find ourselves thinking about what Jesus is trying to say to the disciples?

[more personal] What does that lead us to “take away” from this text? And what would that mean for us, do we think? [That is – if we think Jesus is saying, e.g., “you all need to be more humble” – what do we think we need to do?]

Can we tell what Jesus means by “offending one of these little ones”? What helps us know what he means there? Does what we think Jesus means there seem to depend on what we think the symbol means (that is, our answers to the earlier question)? How?

[more personal] Again – what does this seem to mean for us? What would we ourselves need not to do to avoid “offending” whoever we think “these little ones” are? It might help us to think of some examples …

[a lot more personal, when we come to think about it] If we think of an “offense” as “a stumbling block” or something like a trip-wire – do we think anything about the way we “do church” would be that? What thing or things? Thoughts or feelings about that?

Overall – this part of the text seems meant to engage us in thinking about how it applies to us, specifically. [As if there are parts of the text that aren’t meant to do that …] So, thinking of examples of what we do and don’t do and of how those would and wouldn’t line up with the descriptions and meanings presented in the text here seems vital.

two women in antique dress reading

Image: “Reading,” Alexander Moravov, 1913, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

4 responses to “Reflecting on Matthew 18 1-9”

  1. Chiming in, just cuz … I think, given John’s reference to “little children” as he speaks to his readers, the term is less literate than it is symbolic (though perhaps easy to consider it literate for those with whom he was teaching). I think a “little child” is one who is “new” to the faith, one who easily trusts what is taught, excited about it, craves it. That is how children behave to new things. That is how we are to behave. I see such trust and excitement from my little granddaughter and it’s a beautiful thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Tim – and of course, just cuz is a good reason! And that is a different angle on this story, too – not that the child symbolizes some quality or other, but that the child symbolizes a class or category of people – and the category of people you’re describing makes a lot of sense to me – “you have to turn and be like people who actually care about and want to learn about and ask 10,000 questions a day about the kingdom of heaven to actually enter it …” – love it!!

      Liked by 1 person

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