Matthew 18 is not a literal child, but is one who has humbled themselves as a little child in Christ's service. Also, Alma in Mosiah 26 was faced with the same problem that many discuss today: when a dissenter within the Church should be excommunicated. I am also comparing this to what I have learned in the process of divorcing the husband with whom I once covenanted before God.
It is important to note in Mosiah 26:14 that Alma poured out his whole soul in prayer because he was afraid of sinning before God. He knew what a delicate situation it is to excommunicate a member of the body of Christ. It is, much as illustrated in Matthew, like plucking out one's own eye or cutting off one's own foot.
But, as Christ illustrates in both chapters, it is sometimes necessary to do just that. Those who hear Christ's voice, and humble themselves in His service are His sheep. These are they whose primary work in this life is the Savior's work. When they move throughout their day, they consecrate their actions to the Lord. To them, He promises eternal life.
In contrast, those who do not know Him, who do not have the desire to serve Christ, should not be His sheep, and should not be baptized into the Church. (Mos 26:28)
There are similar criteria by which forgiveness is granted. (v. 31) When a person says they repent, we are to forgive them. In my marriage, there were several times that my husband frightened me or betrayed me. Most of the time, he would exhibit repentant behavior in the form of gifts (usually a gift of time spent with me, flowers, or similar tokens.) At times, he would even take steps to make what he had done wrong right again. I would forgive him and literally forget about it.
But then the Lord says that if they do not repent, they will not be numbered as disciples of Christ. (v. 32)
Now this is not without consequence. In Matthew, the Lord teaches as well that when a member of ours offends us, we are to cut it off. But He does not promise that this will have no effect on us. To the contrary, He teaches that, "it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire." We often interpret this to mean sins, but one of the many tiny steps the Spirit led me through in my journey was to show me that this relates to family members as well.
The Spirit taught me (with much tearfully heated discussion, I might add) that in the case that someone of your family is abusing you and is not repentant (as was the case with my ex-husband after the final time he attacked me physically) it is better to cut that part of my soul free than allow it to continue to degrade me and block me from the Lord.
And I can promise you that although I have a deep fear of being maimed, I would rather have lost an eye and obtained a marriage that was loving than have to amputate my covenants. And while I feel the ache of what I am missing from time to time, I can testify that what Christ said is true. At least now, I am not in danger of being utterly consumed, and I am free to rebuild my faith. No matter how painful that rebirth is.
One thing I find deeply interesting is in Matthew 18:10-11.
Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.
How could this be referring to children? For they are not lost. It is those of His disciples who have had to maim themselves in His service who are the lost sheep. It is those who are on the edges of the herd, feeling unworthy to be in the thick of the flock because of their visible scars. It is not those who willingly leave the flock, but those who wander unintentionally, unnoticed. In these broken souls, the Lord finds joy at their safe return.
In my next post, I will discuss a little more specifically the use of charity in cases of excommunication, and the difference between sheep and wolves in sheep's clothing. I will also outline forgiveness and what it REALLY means to forgive.
Apostasy and the Commandment to Forgive, Part 3