In this passage Jesus addresses issues concerning living the Christian life and how what we do and say affects others. The first teaching is about setting a good example for children. Young children are very trusting and impressionable. Their naïve trust leaves them open to the corrupting and evil influences from the media, mean-spirited and abusive people, well-intentioned but selfish or unthinking adults and parents as well as modern teachers, celebrities and so-called role models who do not know Christ Jesus. Children observe and imitate the speech and behavior of most adults for they trust them.
Jesus condemns those who lead the innocent astray in very forceful terms that ought to make us think carefully about our own behavior and speech in the presence of children. But His condemnation should also make us aware of how our behavior as believers can affect both other believers and nonbelievers alike. Specifically, as believers we ought not to be so quick to condemn others who sin or offend us. We should never rush to judge or to expose the weaknesses, ignorance and sins of others. Such behavior may give the observer the idea that the Lord is merciless and cruel instead of loving and patient. We should seek to extend mercy and forgiveness at every opportunity so that the erring ones may come to repentance and so others would be moved to repentance as well.
Another reason to consider the patient extension of mercy first is given in the parable of the unjust steward. We must be willing to forgive others no matter what considering the great debt of sin that God has forgiven us. We must be willing to extend mercy to the undeserving because God extended that mercy to us based not on our merits but on the sacrifice of Jesus. If the offender rejects our mercy or refuses to repent, then we must agree to let God to deal with them and forgo our sense of justice or revenge.
The transfiguration of Jesus that took place in the presence of the disciples was meant not only to demonstrate conclusively that He was the Messiah, but also that He was God incarnate. No doubt it was a glorious awe-inspiring sight that would have left most of us speechless or blithering idiots mouthing inappropriate spiritual platitudes or singing endlessly repetitious and shallow choruses as is popular in the contemporary church these days.
For that reason we really cannot criticize the three disciples Peter, James and John. They did not understand. They placed Jesus on the same level as Moses and Elijah. Great as those two men were, they were subordinate to Jesus. The disciples were still a little dense, still unable to comprehend who Jesus was and what He had come into the world to do, though they had been with him for some time, and had even gone out in His name, performing miracles and signs. What Jesus really was and is was totally beyond their expectation.
The others disciples also demonstrated a lack of understanding revealed as a lack of faith in the power of God as it was entrusted to them. These disciples failed to cast a demon out of a boy. The boy manifested symptoms similar to epilepsy. Perhaps the disciples observed the instability of the boy, or perhaps the demon would just not allow the boy to stay still, maybe they just did not properly prepare themselves to battle the devil. Maybe they were afraid. We all get that way at times when called on to do the work of the Lord. This fear or ineptitude is good because it fosters humility. It shows us how much we need the Lord.
Cost of discipleship.
We learn from these verses that a disciple of Christ puts his/her trust in Jesus alone. In this life this trust or faith is often based on what we cannot see. There are usually no signs or feelings or miracles to confirm that the faith is based on truth. In fact it may often seem that the faith is misguided for it goes unrewarded, unrecognized, unproven while unbelievers behave wickedly and prosper in spite of it. The only thing we have to verify what we believe is often the word of God.
When we in the Christian Church compare ourselves to the world, to people with money, fame, power and talent such as actors, millionaires, celebrities and politicians we may think (as many do): “What is the use of following God? Others do what they want and get what they want. I deserve it. It’s my turn now. Why should I give up what I want? Why shouldn’t I get what they have?’’ This is the way of self, not the way of the disciple.
The disciple must surrender his life to God and trust Him for all the answers, all the meaning and purpose in life. The cost of discipleship therefore is denial of self. That is not the same as self-denial in which we deny things to ourselves at times such as food or water or material possessions in an attempt to discipline our fleshly appetites and build up our spiritual strength. Denial of self involves surrendering my whole life, all my wants and desires to God to do what He wants. This is the ultimate purpose of life: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”
The Pharisees here complained about the fact that Jesus’ apostles did not adhere to strict standards of ritual cleanliness. Jesus rightly called them hypocrites. They were the ones who were unclean within. On the outside they looked and talked like righteous men. They followed the Law to the letter. They held all the right moral values and espoused all the right moral and religious causes. But they were the ones who rejected Jesus and His message.
What was their problem? The Pharisees were so proud of their righteousness that they forget they were sinners in need of God. They also lost sight of God who desires to extend grace, love and mercy. They despised the people that found these attributes in Jesus: prostitutes, tax-collectors, lepers and sinners. The Pharisees also despised the pagans such as this woman who came to Jesus to ask for help for her demon-possessed daughter. Jesus appeared to insult her by referring to her as a dog. That was the term the 1st Century Jews applied to idol-worshipping pagans. But we must assume that it was not offered as an insult, for we know Jesus never insults or turns away anyone who earnestly seeks His help. He was testing her faith. She recognized Him not just as a miracle worker or a good man, but worshipped Him as God incarnate. Jesus did not turn her away, but rewarded her faith and persistence.
Many in the Church are like the Pharisees. They are zealous about the need for Christian moral values in our society to the point that it seems they are malicious and angry. While we must never condone, promote or ignore immorality, we must never forget to extend mercy, grace, kindness and love to sinners. Many of them seem happy and care free, but they are to be pitied for they are covering up a world of hate, abuse and self-loathing. They are never satisfied with what they have for they are ever seeking more. And their end is eternal separation from God unless they are touched by His love incarnated in each of us.
This miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes boggles our minds. We struggle to imagine how it happened. One moment Jesus is holding 5 loaves and 2 fish, and the next He is handing out thousands of loaves and fish, so much that everyone eats until they are full. And there were leftovers. Where did all that food come from? Out of thin air? Out of His hands? It was a spectacular miracle, and the people knew it.
The Jews of Jesus’ day expected many signs and wonders with the coming of the Messiah. One sign would be that He would bring manna, bread from heaven, as Moses gave the children of Israel in the desert. The manna God provided them was the only nourishment they needed. The Jews believed the Messiah would provide this bread.
And like Moses, the Messiah would lead the Jews out of slavery. Like Moses He would have power over all natural forces. Moses parted the waters of the Red Sea so the people could pass through the waters. But Jesus is Lord of the sea. He did not need to part it. Jesus walked on the surface of the water. He showed the apostles, as He shows us, that He is no mere man like Moses. He is greater than Moses. And He shows us He is no mere political or military leader. He is the Creator and sustainer of all life.
The Lord still is providing “bread” to people who are spiritually hungry. He gives us who He has called that bread, the truth of the gospel to share with others, not keep to ourselves. We can certainly give comfort to others blinded and lost in the darkness of sin by shining the light of the truth with words and deeds of love performed in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord.
When Jesus commands us not to judge, He does not mean we must not use our ability to reason and discern. We must still make value judgments to assess the behavior of others. If we did not reason and judge, how would we be able to evaluate the behavior of the legalists and hypocrites so we do not follow their example? How would we be able to recognize false teachers that Jesus warns us of or those who just want to ridicule the gospel?
When Jesus tells us not to judge, He means we cannot set ourselves up over everyone as judge, jury and executioner. We have no right to consign others to hell or condemn them. That is the Lord’s right, not ours. We have to examine ourselves first and see the iniquity in our own hearts. Then we would realize our weakness. We would know how much we need God’s grace and mercy ourselves. Then we would recognize that others too are in need of that mercy and grace. Then we would realize that we must extend that same grace and mercy to them, not words of hate and condemnation. That applies even if they hate, malign and attack us. This is the essence of the so-called golden rule. We are to treat others as we would want them to treat us. Now, unless a person is a masochist this means we treat them with respect and do things that benefit and encourage them often at cost to ourselves. This message of Jesus sounds so foreign to we who think that we who live in a culture that seeks to exalt self first at the expense of others. The Kingdom of heaven really turns the world upside down!
Even though Jesus clearly says otherwise, many people, including large numbers of Christians act as if true spirituality and righteousness were a matter of outward appearance and the mindless repetition of prayers. Good deeds and outward piety may make people feel good about themselves, that they are not so bad after all, that they are actually good, maybe even very good. Their deeds may even earn them acclaim, fame and awards. But unless the heart of that person doing those deeds is right with God, they are meaningless. Good deeds and prayer, according to Jesus, are to be done in secret, that is without fanfare or drawing attention to the self and God will reward in secret.
The values of the Kingdom of God are at odds with those of the world. This is why Jesus tells us that no man can serve 2 masters. Yet many humans even those who call themselves Christians think they can. Just look at your checkbook and credit card statements to see the things you value. These purchases reflect lifestyle and worldview. In the interests of being considered broadminded and tolerant we think we can worship God and at the same time adopt the world’s values and ideals, admire and even praise what the world venerates in music, film, entertainment, sports and the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Jesus says we cannot love God while we still love the world. That is nothing but selfish hypocrisy. We indeed cannot serve God and anything else at the same time.
Jesus wants us to be selflessly authentic: real, honest and humble. He wants us to follow His example of love, mercy and unselfish concern for the interests and spiritual well-being of others and to seek our own interests second.