Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Matthew 18:10–14

Matthew 18:10–14 (ESV): The Parable of the Lost Sheep

Synopsis

This passage continues on with the point Jesus began in the last two passages, and gets back to the point about children (or “little ones”) again: we should not “despise” one of the little ones, because “in heaven their angels always see the face” of God the Father.

Jesus then expands on this thought by telling the parable of the lost sheep: If a man had a hundred sheep and lost one, he’d leave the 99 sheep behind and go searching for the one that was lost, and upon finding it would rejoice over that lost and re-found sheep more than over the 99 who were never lost in the first place. He then concludes:

“So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” (verse 14 (ESV))

Thoughts

Frankly, I miss part of the point of this passage simply because I don’t know enough about angels. (Perhaps nobody does; it’s not like the Bible says a lot about them.) Jesus starts off the passage in verse 10 (ESV) by saying:

“"See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”
What, exactly, does this mean? If we were to take it very literally, it would mean that when we “despise” children we should be worried about the fact that those children’s angels are able to tell God on us—although I’m wondering why that matters so much, when God Himself knows all that is happening; it’s not like our “despising” of His children happens without His notice, and then when the angels tell Him He gets mad. Not that I’m fully discounting this idea either, however; prayer is a mystery to us—why do we need to pray when God already knows what we need and what we want?—but it’s also quite clear in the Scriptures that it’s something that we can and should do; perhaps there is an importance to the fact that these angels are going to God on the children’s behalf.

Of course, I skipped over an even deeper point: These children have angels. I have no idea how this works. Does each person get assigned an angel? Does an angel have multiple people to look after, sort of like a case worker? What do the angels do for these children? Is it safe to assume that an angel continues to help a person throughout that person’s life? Does this apply only to children of God, or to all children? Jesus doesn’t give any details on this. The ESV Study Bible notes say this on verse 10:

The heavenly Father uses angels to care for his childlike disciples (cf. Heb. 1:14 (ESV)), but their angels does not imply that each disciple has one assigned “guardian angel.” always see the face of my Father. These angels do, however, have continuous and open communication with God.
It’s an interesting verse, to say the least.

Worse than not understanding the parts about angels, I confess to not even understanding how the parable of the lost sheep fits in with Jesus’ point about God loving the “little ones.” And in fact am starting to wonder if Jesus is using the phrase “little one” as a metaphor for someone who doesn’t yet know God, or is on the beginning path to knowing Him. To quote the ESV Study Bible again, they seem to be thinking something along these lines:

little ones should perish. A dangerous yet real possibility is that apparent followers of Jesus may not be true disciples at all but only professing believers (e.g., Judas Iscariot).
If this is the case—if “little ones” is referring to some level of believer who is in danger of losing his or her faith—then the parable makes a lot more sense.

It is at this point that I feel I should probably delete much of what I have written, and rewrite my “thoughts” with this as my base premise. However, I’ll leave the thought process intact…
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