Moses by John August Swanson. Image from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, Tenn. Original source © 1983 by John August Swanson.
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Who Is the Greatest?
Matthew 18:1-9 Commentary
by Elisabeth Johnson
“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’”
This question comes after Jesus has already told his disciples twice about the suffering and death that awaits him in Jerusalem (Matthew 16:21-23; 17:22-23), and after he has told them that following him entails denying themselves and taking up the cross (16:24-25).
It seems that Jesus’ message has not truly penetrated the minds and hearts of the disciples. Perhaps they have heard the part about the kingdom of heaven drawing near, but they have not understood what kind of kingdom this is, for they are preoccupied with questions of their status in this kingdom.
In response, Jesus offers a profound critique of their very question. He calls a child, places the child among them, and tells them that unless they change and become as little children, they will never even enter the kingdom (18:3; Matthew uses the strong double negative, ou mé). As long as they are concerned about their own status, they have missed the point completely.
A child in the ancient world was without status ...
| Bible Text
2020-21 Readings (Year 3)
2020-21 Worship Resources
The narrative lectionary is a four-year cycle of readings. Read more.
NL165: Who Is the Greatest?
February 18, 2015
Narrative Lectionary podcast on readings for Feb. 18, 2015: Matthew 18:1-9 (Accompanying text: Psalm 146:7c-10 or 51:1-3).