At about the same time, the disciples came to Jesus asking, "Who gets the highest rank in God's kingdom?"
For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room,
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.
Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God's kingdom.
What's more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it's the same as receiving me.
"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.
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.
"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.
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.
"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?
"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?
And if he finds it, doesn't he make far more over it than over the ninety-nine who stay put?
Your Father in heaven feels the same way. He doesn't want to lose even one of these simple believers.
"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.
If he won't listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again.
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.
"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.
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.
And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I'll be there."
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?"
Jesus replied, "Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.
"The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants.
As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars.
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.
"The poor wretch threw himself at the king's feet and begged, 'Give me a chance and I'll pay it all back.'
Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.
"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!'
"The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, 'Give me a chance and I'll pay it all back.'
But he wouldn't do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid.
When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king.
"The king summoned the man and said, 'You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy.
Shouldn't you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?'
The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt.
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."