Who Is the Greatest?
18 1 At about the same time, the disciples came to Jesus asking, "Who gets the highest rank in God's kingdom?" 2 For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, 3 and said, "I'm telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you're not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. 4 Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God's kingdom. 5 What's more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it's the same as receiving me.
Temptations to Sin
6 "But if you give them a hard time, bullying or taking advantage of their simple trust, you'll soon wish you hadn't. You'd be better off dropped in the middle of the lake with a millstone around your neck.
7 Doom to the world for giving these God-believing children a hard time! Hard times are inevitable, but you don't have to make it worse - and it's doomsday to you if you do. 8 "If your hand or your foot gets in the way of God, chop it off and throw it away. You're better off maimed or lame and alive than the proud owners of two hands and two feet, godless in a furnace of eternal fire. 9 And if your eye distracts you from God, pull it out and throw it away. You're better off one-eyed and alive than exercising your twenty-twenty vision from inside the fire of hell.
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
10 "Watch that you don't treat a single one of these childlike believers arrogantly. You realize, don't you, that their personal angels are constantly in touch with my Father in heaven? 12 "Look at it this way. If someone has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders off, doesn't he leave the ninety-nine and go after the one? 13 And if he finds it, doesn't he make far more over it than over the ninety-nine who stay put? 14 Your Father in heaven feels the same way. He doesn't want to lose even one of these simple believers.
A Brother Who Sins
15 "If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him - work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you've made a friend. 16 If he won't listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. 17 If he still won't listen, tell the church. If he won't listen to the church, you'll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God's forgiving love. 18 "Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this. 19 When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. 20 And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I'll be there."
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
21 At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, "Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?" 22 Jesus replied, "Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven. 23 "The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. 24 As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. 25 He couldn't pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market. 26 "The poor wretch threw himself at the king's feet and begged, 'Give me a chance and I'll pay it all back.' 27 Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt. 28 "The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, 'Pay up. Now!' 29 "The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, 'Give me a chance and I'll pay it all back.' 30 But he wouldn't do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. 31 When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king. 32 "The king summoned the man and said, 'You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. 33 Shouldn't you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?' 34 The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. 35 And that's exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn't forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy."
Jesus' Teaching on Divorce
3 One day the Pharisees were badgering him: "Is it legal for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?" 4 He answered, "Haven't you read in your Bible that the Creator originally made man and woman for each other, male and female? 5 And because of this, a man leaves father and mother and is firmly bonded to his wife, becoming one flesh - no longer two bodies but one. 6 Because God created this organic union of the two sexes, no one should desecrate his art by cutting them apart." 7 They shot back in rebuttal, "If that's so, why did Moses give instructions for divorce papers and divorce procedures?" 8 Jesus said, "Moses provided for divorce as a concession to your hardheartedness, but it is not part of God's original plan. 9 I'm holding you to the original plan, and holding you liable for adultery if you divorce your faithful wife and then marry someone else. I make an exception in cases where the spouse has committed adultery." 10 Jesus' disciples objected, "If those are the terms of marriage, we're stuck. Why get married?" 11 But Jesus said, "Not everyone is mature enough to live a married life. It requires a certain aptitude and grace. Marriage isn't for everyone. 12 Some, from birth seemingly, never give marriage a thought. Others never get asked - or accepted. And some decide not to get married for kingdom reasons. But if you're capable of growing into the largeness of marriage, do it."
Jesus Blesses Little Children
13 One day children were brought to Jesus in the hope that he would lay hands on them and pray over them. The disciples shooed them off. 14 But Jesus intervened: "Let the children alone, don't prevent them from coming to me. God's kingdom is made up of people like these." 15 After laying hands on them, he left.
The Rich Young Ruler
16 Another day, a man stopped Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" 17 Jesus said, "Why do you question me about what's good? God is the One who is good. If you want to enter the life of God, just do what he tells you." 18 The man asked, "What in particular?" Jesus said, "Don't murder, don't commit adultery, don't steal, don't lie, 19 honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as you do yourself." 20 The young man said, "I've done all that. What's left?" 21 "If you want to give it all you've got," Jesus replied, "go sell your possessions; give everything to the poor. All your wealth will then be in heaven. Then come follow me." 22 That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so, crestfallen, he walked away. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn't bear to let go.
23 As he watched him go, Jesus told his disciples, "Do you have any idea how difficult it is for the rich to enter God's kingdom? 24 Let me tell you, it's easier to gallop a camel through a needle's eye than for the rich to enter God's kingdom." 25 The disciples were staggered. "Then who has any chance at all?" 26 Jesus looked hard at them and said, "No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it." 27 Then Peter chimed in, "We left everything and followed you. What do we get out of it?" 28 Jesus replied, "Yes, you have followed me. In the re-creation of the world, when the Son of Man will rule gloriously, you who have followed me will also rule, starting with the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And not only you, but anyone who sacrifices home, family, fields - whatever - because of me will get it all back a hundred times over, not to mention the considerable bonus of eternal life. 30 This is the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first.