Chapter 5: The Second Part of the Galilean Ministry
After the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew returns to Mark’s narrative with the sentence (Mt 8:1), "When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him." Luke also, after inserting his account of the call of the first disciples, rejoins Mark at this point. Now follows the third of the healing miracles recorded in the Synoptic Gospels (Mk 1:40-45; Mt 8:2-4; Lk 5:12-16), one of the eight reported by all three. As Jesus moved on from Capernaum, he was approached by a leper, who knelt before him and said, "If you will, you can make me clean." Jesus touched him and said, I will; be clean." Although charged to tell no one of his cure, but to go to a priest and fulfil the rites of cleansing (Lev 14:2-32), the man spread the news so widely that people flocked to Jesus and made it impossible for him to enter a town openly. (Matthew omits this last detail; Luke says simply, "But he withdrew to the wilderness and prayed.")
Before continuing further with Mark, Matthew presents six incidents that appear at various other points in Mark or Luke or both. First Matthew relates the fourth of the healing miracles (Mt 8:5-13; Lk 7:1-10). When Jesus returned to Capernaum, we are told, a Roman centurion appealed to him to heal a sick slave. According to Matthew the slave was paralyzed; Luke says he was "sick and at the point of death." In Matthew the centurion is said to have come directly to Jesus; but according to Luke he sent a delegation of Jewish elders, who told Jesus that the centurion was friendly to the Jews and had built them a synagogue.
Jesus agreed to come and heal the slave, but the centurion said he was unworthy to have Jesus enter his house and suggested that the cure might be accomplished at a distance by a word of command. In Luke the suggestion is made by friends sent to meet Jesus. The centurion cited the military discipline to which he was accustomed: he obeyed his superiors and was obeyed by his soldiers. Jesus expressed amazement at such faith, surpassing any he had found among his own people. He did as he was asked, and the slave immediately recovered. Luke says that the friends who had been sent to Jesus found the slave well when they got back to the house.
Jesus’ expression of surprise is followed in Matthew by a statement given by Luke in a different connection (Mt 8:11-12; Lk 13:28-29). Using the familiar image of the Messianic banquet, Jesus says that in the kingdom of heaven many from east and west will join Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the table: but "the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness," where "men will weep and gnash their teeth." Matthew’s incorporation of this saying in the story of the centurion’s servant brings out its unavoidable implication, the extension of salvation to the Gentiles and the rejection of the chosen people as heirs of the kingdom. Usually it is Luke who shows most interest in the Gentiles, and Matthew who preserves sayings that seem to restrict the gospel to Israel (cf. Mt 10:5-6, 23; 15:24).
Jesus’ attitude toward the Gentiles and his teaching concerning their place in the divine plan of salvation pose a problem that will come up again. For the present I may acknowledge a suspicion that in personal contacts with Gentiles Jesus found his own convictions profoundly affected. Theories of development in Jesus’ thinking during his brief ministry are precarious. In this case, however, it seems entirely credible that, with his sympathy and understanding, wider human contacts stimulated broader ideas and attitudes.
Next Matthew reports the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law and the exorcisms and healings in the evening, which he omitted from his account of the Sabbath in Capernaum (Mt 8:14-17: Mk 1:29-34: Lk 4:38-41). Characteristically Matthew adds, "This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, ‘He took our infirmities and bore our diseases’" (Is 53:4).
Matthew now gives Jesus’ replies to two men who volunteered to follow him (Mt 8:18-22; Lk 9:57-60). Matthew introduces these incidents with a statement similar to one that Mark and Luke make on another occasion (cf. Mk 4:35; Lk 8:22): "Now when Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side." By inserting the encounters between Jesus’ command to cross the lake arid his embarkation, Matthew makes it appear that they occurred just as Jesus was about to step into the boat.
The first man, whom Matthew calls a scribe, addressed Jesus as "Teacher" and said. "I will follow you wherever you go" (Mt 8:19-20; Lk 9:57-58). Jesus warned him of what this would involve: "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head." This is the first occurrence of the term "Son of man" in the Gospels. It is Jesus’ favorite way of referring to himself and occurs only in his sayings. Simple as this appears, the implications of the expression and Jesus’ use of it involve serious problems, which we shall have to consider later.
The second man who spoke to Jesus (Mt 8:21-22; Lk 9:59-60) said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." Jesus’ reply to this request appears in Matthew as. "Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead." Luke has it. "Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God. Such a response seems severe, even harsh. It is easier to understand if the incident occurred where Luke places it (9:5 1), after Jesus had "set his face to go to Jerusalem." There is reason to believe that Jesus’ most stringent demands were directed only to those who would go all the way with him to danger and possible death.
After these incidents. Matthew inserts two that come later in both Mark and Luke (Mt 8:23-24; Mk 4:35-41; 5:1-20; Lk 8~-39) the calming of the storm on the Sea of Galilee and the exorcism of the Gadarene demoniac, who, with Matthew’s curious propensity for doubling, becomes two demoniacs in his account. These incidents will be discussed where Mark and Luke report them.
Now Matthew resumes Mark’s order of events, and the three Gospels proceed together with the next three items (Mk 2:1-12; Mt 9:1-8; Lk 5:17-26). The first is the healing of a paralytic. Mark’s account of this, following the tour through Galilee, begins, "And when he returned to Capernaum after some days." Matthew, having just told of a miracle on the eastern side of the lake, brings Jesus hack to Capernaum with the sentence (9:1), "And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city," which obviously cannot mean Nazareth here. Luke (5:17) does not say where the healing took place. These details are significant only because they show again that the evangelists were no more concerned about geography than they were about chronology. In this instance Mark explicitly, Matthew presumably, and Luke probably regarded the miracle as performed at Capernaum; but they got there at three different times and in three different ways.
The healing of the paralytic, the fifth healing miracle, is especially familiar because of the extraordinary measures taken to get the patient into the presence of Jesus, who was in a house, speaking to the crowd that had gathered there. So dense was the throng, says Mark, that "there was no longer room for them, not even about the door." Unable to get in through the crowd, the men who had brought the paralyzed man made a hole in the roof and lowered him through it on his pallet to the place where Jesus was. Luke says that they let him down "through the tiles," presupposing a tiled roof like those in the Greek cities. Mark, however, says literally, "and when they had dug (it) out," which implies a roof made of poles overlaid with branches or rushes and covered with earth. This picturesque incident reflects popular enthusiasm about Jesus and the faith of the sick and their friends in his ability to heal them.
The account is also the first of a series of "conflict stories" in Mark, recording the beginning of the opposition that eventually led to Calvary. Before healing the man, Jesus said to him, "My son, your sins are forgiven." At this "some of the scribes" said to themselves (or to one another), "It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Jesus proceeded to heal the paralytic, demonstrating "that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins." This now becomes the point of the story. The man who was forgiven and healed had only to get up and go home, though Luke adds that he glorified God, as well he might.
The miracle is followed by the calling of a tax collector to be one of Jesus’ disciples (Mk 2:13-17; Mt 9:9-13; Lk 5:27-32). Mark gives the man’s name as Levi the son of Alphaeus, and Luke gives it simply as Levi; but in the Gospel of Matthew he is called Matthew. Possibly the church in which the Gospel of Matthew was composed had a tradition that identified the converted tax collector with the apostle Matthew.
To invite a tax collector to join the band of disciples was a daring act, comparable to making a U.S. Revenue agent one’s companion in the Kentucky mountains. In the Roman empire the collection of taxes was farmed out to wealthy men who could pay well for the concession and then exact enough more from the people to make a high profit. The Latin word for such a man was publicanus; hence the word "publican" used in the KJV. Levi (or Matthew) would have been not one of these rich tax-farmers but an agent. Even so, he served the Roman oppressors, and any group that included him would not be popular. To follow Jesus he abandoned his odious occupation. This would make his conversion all the more impressive.
The calling of Levi affords an example of the attitude of Jesus and his followers toward people despised and cast out by the respectable segment of society. Levi did not turn his back on his former associates, but invited many of them to dinner to meet Jesus. This at least is how Luke understood the matter (5:29). Mark and Matthew are not so clear on this point (Mk 2:15; Mt 9:10). It is possible to understand them as meaning that the host was Jesus.
Again the teachers of the law object to Jesus’ conduct. This time the criticism is directed against his eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. The sinners would not necessarily be criminals or immoral persons, but more broadly the common people who knew and cared nothing about the fine points of the law (cf. Jn 7:49). That a religious teacher should freely associate with such riffraff seemed to the scribes shocking. Jesus, however, said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician. but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." This should not only have silenced the opposition, it should also have prevented forever the existence of similar attitudes among his own followers. In the midst of this saying Matthew has a quotation of Hosea 6:6, which he cites again a little later (Mt 9:13; cf. 12:7).
Now follows a discussion of fasting (Mk 2:18-20; Mt 9:14-15; Lk 5:33-35), in particular the question why John the Baptist’s disciples and the Pharisees fasted but Jesus’ disciples did not. Mark treats this as a distinct new incident: "Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him. . ." Jesus replied, "Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day." In the last two and a half sentences it is tempting to see an addition made later to sanction the practice of fasting, which had meanwhile crept into the church. The whole story may have been created for this purpose, but that seems less likely.
As though part of the same conversation, the evangelists report the sayings about putting a new patch on an old garment and putting new wine in old wineskins (Mk 2:21-22; Mt 9:16-17; Lk 5:36-38). The idea in Mark and Matthew is that a piece of unshrunk cloth used as a patch will shrink and tear away from the old cloth. Luke thinks of tearing a piece from a new garment to repair an old one, thus both ruining the new garment and making a patch that does not match the old garment. If the new cloth and new wine refer to the gospel or the Christian life, the moral of the sayings seems to be that the old system of religious practices, of which fasting is a part, cannot assimilate the new teaching. A whole new set of institutions is required.
Luke appends here (5:39) a saying not reported by Mark or Matthew: "And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’" This is a fine text for conservatives, but it does not go well with the other sayings, which imply that the new wine is better. Apparently this is another instance of combining sayings that have only a superficial connection, in this case a reference to new wine.
At this point Matthew introduces a large block of material (9:18-34), most of which appears later in Mark or Luke if not both. It includes four miracles, which we shall deal with when we reach them in Mark or Luke. Then Matthew tells of the healing and preaching mission of the twelve apostles. Mark’s introductory statement that Jesus "went about among the villages teaching" is much expanded in Matthew (Mk 6:6; Mt 9:35-36); and a saying not reported by Mark but used later by Luke is added (vv 37-38), telling the disciples to pray for laborers to reap the abundant harvest. Before proceeding with the instructions to the twelve, Matthew lists their names (10:2-4).
Mark’s brief report of the instructions now becomes the nucleus of Matthew’s second discourse, which, however, begins (10:5) on an exclusively Matthaean note: "These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’" The expression "lost sheep of the house of Israel" occurs elsewhere only once, and only in Matthew (15:24).
Neither Mark nor Luke mentions such a limitation of the mission of Jesus or his disciples. Luke, as we have seen, is at pains to legitimize the Gentile mission and to root it in the ministry of Jesus from the beginning (Lk 4:24-27). Even in Matthew the limitation is annulled at the end, when the risen Lord tells the disciples to make disciples of all nations (Mt 281:19); and before that (21:43) Matthew announces the transfer of the kingdom from Israel to "a nation producing the fruits of it."
It has been suggested that the instructions to the disciples in Matthew’s second discourse originated in a manual for early Christian evangelists in their efforts to be "witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea"(Acts 1:8). If so, the compiler used sayings found also in Mark and often in Luke, usually in other contexts. Moreover, comparison with Matthew’s editorial procedure in the Sermon on the Mount indicates that he also made this collection to fit his scheme of five major discourses. That some of the material in the chapter originated in connection with a Judean mission after Pentecost is not improbable. Some recollection of this early enterprise survives in Acts (9:31-43; 10). In that case, it was the missionaries of the apostolic church who were told to go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt 10:5-6). The warnings of persecution seem more suitable for this situation than for a brief tour of healing and teaching during Jesus’ ministry.
Luke too has much of the material used in Matthew’s second discourse but not found in Mark. As usual, he presents it in smaller portions and at different points in his outline. His account of the expedition of the twelve agrees with Mark’s for the most part (Lk 9:1-6; cf. Mk 6:7-13); but he adds to the purpose of the mission that the disciples were "to preach the kingdom of God"; and where Mark says that they preached repentance, Luke uses his favorite verb, saying that they went through the villages "preaching the gospel" (literally, "evangelizing").
In Matthew the instructions for the mission of the twelve begin with preaching: "And preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’" (10:7; cf. 3:2; 4:17). The gospel is thus summarized again in the same words previously used for the message of John the Baptist and Jesus. The twelve are told also (10:8) to "heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons." Then comes a saying recorded by Matthew alone: "You received without paying; give without pay."
There is a curious, though unimportant, variation in the command concerning equipment (Mk 6:8-9; Mt 10:9-10; Lk 9:3, cf. 10:4). Mark says that the twelve are to "take nothing for their journey except a staff," but in both Matthew and Luke, Jesus tells them not to take a staff; and although Mark says that they must wear sandals, Matthew will not allow them even that much comfort (so also Luke in the mission of the seventy). All three evangelists say they must not carry money.
The brief command reported by Mark to lodge in only one house in each village is expanded in Matthew and in the directions to the seventy in Luke (Mk 6:10; Mt 10:11-13; Lk 9:4; 10:7). On entering the house where they intend to stay, the disciples are to salute it with a wish for peace. If the house is worthy, as Matthew says, or if a son of peace is there, as Luke puts it, the peace invoked will rest there. If not, it will return to the disciple who uttered the greeting. This reflects the age-old Semitic idea of blessings and curses as actually conveying the good or evil by an almost physical power (cf. Is 55:11).
To the command to remain in the same house in each town Luke adds (10:7-8), "eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages," and again, "eat what is set before you." In the reference to a laborer Matthew reads "food" instead of "wages" (10:10). Apparently Matthew means that the disciples should feel no obligation to provide for their own sustenance; they are earning it. Luke seems to be thinking more of the hesitation they might feel in accepting food offered to them.
The instructions to the twelve in all three Gospels, and to the seventy also in Luke, include the symbolic act of shaking the dust from their feet when they leave a town that will not receive them (Mk 6:1l; Mt 10:14; Lk 9:5; 10:10-11). Mark and Luke add "for a testimony against them"; and in the directions to the seventy Luke has the disciples say they are doing this and add, "nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near."
Both Matthew and Luke now report Jesus’ statement that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than for a town that has rejected the disciples (Mt 10:15; Lk 10:12). Matthew puts here a saying that Luke uses at the beginning of the directions to the seventy (Mt 10:16; Lk 10:3): "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves"; and Matthew adds, "So be wise as serpents and innocent as doves."
After this, Luke quotes a pronouncement of woe against Chorazin and Capernaum for their failure to repent in spite of the mighty works Jesus had done there (Lk 10:13-15; cf. Mt 11:21-24). This includes a comparison of the doom of these cities with that of Tyre and Sidon, recalling the comparison with Sodom and Gomorrah. Matthew puts this paragraph after Jesus’ tribute to John the Baptist.
The remainder of Matthew’s second discourse includes several paragraphs of material used in other connections by Luke, beginning with one from Mark’s apocalyptic discourse (Mt 10:17-22; cf. Mk 13:9-13; Lk 21:12-17). This reflects a situation more developed than that of the mission of the twelve; it speaks of being delivered to councils, flogged in synagogues, and dragged before governors and kings. I therefore defer discussion of it until we reach the point where Mark has this material.
The last sentence of Matthew’s paragraph (10:23) is not recorded by Mark or Luke: "When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel, before the Son of man comes." This can hardly mean merely that Jesus will catch up with the disciples. The Son of man here is not one who is present but one who is coming soon. Other sayings show that the reference is to a coming from heaven for judgment. The mission in view is therefore that of the church, which in spite of persecution must be pursued vigorously until the Son of man comes. Perhaps the saying was uttered first by a prophet who believed he spoke by the spirit of Jesus (cf. Acts 11:27-28; 21:10-11).
After this, Matthew has a proverb-like saying (10:24-25; cf. Lk 6:40): "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master; it is enough for the disciple to he like his teacher, and the servant like his master." This obviously refers to the rejection and persecution that the disciples must be prepared to endure. They cannot expect to be exempt from whit Jesus himself has to suffer. A sentence found only in Matthew brings this out: "If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they malign those of his household" (cf. Mk 3:22-27 and parallels).
"So have no fear of them," Matthew’s discourse continues (10:26); "for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known." The paragraph that begins thus appears in Luke after a series of woes in the Pharisees and lawyers and is introduced there by a warning against the leaven of the Pharisees (Lk 12:1-9). Mark and Luke also have the declaration that everything hidden will be made known in connection with the saying about putting a lamp under a bushel (Mk 4:21-25; Lk 8::16-l8). Here in Matthew it is followed by a command to utter in the light what Jesus has told in the dark, and proclaim upon the housetops what they have heard whispered (10:27). Luke gives this in that context (12:3) as a prediction instead of a command, and makes it refer to what the disciples have said instead of what they have heard.
Next in both Matthew and Luke the disciples are told not to fear men, who can kill the body but not the soul, or, as Luke has it, "who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do" (Mt 10:28; Lk 12:4-5). Instead they are to fear him who "can destroy both soul and body in hell." Literally this implies that those condemned to future punishment are destroyed, body and soul. Luke does not mention the soul but says, "fear him who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes. I tell you, fear him!" The word translated "hell," here as elsewhere in the RSV. is Gehenna.
A familiar and cherished promise of God’s concern for his children comes next in both Gospels (Mt 19:29-31; Lk 12:6-7). Jesus assures the disciples that not even a sparrow falls to the around unnoticed by God, but they are worth far more in his sight than many sparrows. In Luke Jesus says of the sparrows. "not one of them is forgotten before God." In Matthew he says, "not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will" (RSV), literally "without your Father" (KJV). God cares about even the least of his creatures. A man, however, especially a disciple fearlessly doing his duty, is "of more value than many sparrows. "But even the hairs of your head are all numbered." Jesus assures his followers (cf. Lk 21:18).
Both Matthew and Luke end this paragraph with a saying about acknowledging Jesus before men (Mt 10:32-33; Lk 12:8-9; cf Mk 8:38; Lk 9:26). Those who do so he will acknowledge before his Father who is in heaven but those who deny him before men he will deny before his Father who is in heaven. In Luke this reads, "And I tell you. every one who acknowledges me before men, the Son of man also will acknowledge before the angels of God." Here Jesus. or the Son of man, is not judge but witness, and the judgment is apparently in heaven.
Something of what may be involved in loyal acknowledgment of Jesus is made plain by the next paragraph in Matthew, a warning reported later by Luke (Mt 10:34-36; Lk 12:51-53). Jesus has not come to bring peace, he says. but a sword. The next sentence in Matthew echoes a verse from the prophet Micah (7:6). except that Jesus says he will bring about the divisions in families that Micah cites as characteristic of the social disorders of his day. Luke’s report fills in the picture but is less like Micah. Both forms give unmistakable notice of the sacrifice of normal ties to which discipleship may lead, not because these relationships are incompatible with discipleship if all concerned are equally dedicated, but because that is not always the case.
Still stronger is the statement that follows in Matthew (10:37-38): "He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me." Luke has this saying later (14:26-27) in even sterner language: one who comes to Jesus must hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life." Otherwise "he cannot be my disciple"; and one who "does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple." Matthew may have toned down the original harshness of the saying.
The statement that the disciple must take or bear his own cross is reported by Mark and Luke and repeated by Matthew as part of what Jesus said at Caesarea Philippi (Mk 8:34; Mt 16:24; Lk 9:23). Luke reads there, "take up his cross daily," which, like his "bear his own cross here," suggests a continuous life of sacrifice and endurance rather than a single act of dedication. This reference to a cross before the crucifixion seems to be a transparent allusion to Jesus’ carrying his own cross to Calvary (in 19:17). The connection vanishes, however, if, as the Synoptic Gospels say, Simon of Cyrene carried Jesus’ cross (Mk 15:21; Mt 27:32; Lk 23:26). The metaphor would be clear without such an allusion. Crucifixion was a familiar mode of execution, and references to a condemned criminal carrying his cross are found in both classical and rabbinic literature.
The saying is followed by a paradox (Mt 10:39; cf. Mk 8:35; Mt 16:25; Lk 9:24; 17:33): "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it" (Mark reads, " for my sake and the gospel’s"). The Gospel of John applies this to the contrast between this life and the future life: "He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (in 12:25).
The word translated "life" in these places is often translated "soul." The KJV uses both words for the same Greek noun in two consecutive verses (Mk 8:35-36: Mt 16:25-26) This noun (psyche), however, does not refer to the immortal part of man as distinguished from his mortal body. Neither does it, for that matter, designate life as contrasted with death; there are other Greek words for that concept. There is no English word that corresponds to it exactly. Sometimes "self" comes closest to its meaning. The Aramaic word that Jesus must have used covers much the same range as the Greek word. It is also frequently used in a reflexive sense. The Greek text of Luke 9:25, "if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself," probably represents this use of the Aramaic noun.
A famous and usually discerning commentator made a strange remark about this saying. By these words, he said, Jesus based his teaching on self-interest: the purpose of not seeking one’s own life was merely to save it. But what Jesus meant was that only he who loses himself in devotion to something greater than himself really lives.
What all this has to do with the mission of the twelve disciples is by no means obvious. The place where Luke puts it. during the final journey to Jerusalem. is more appropriate, if indeed it does not reflect a still later time of persecution; yet Jesus may have said these things at any time and probably said them often.
Matthew now concludes his second discourse with three related sayings (10:40-42). Two of them are variations of sayings found in Mark, one of these being in Luke also. The first, "He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me," refers in this context to the twelve disciples. In Mark and Luke it is a part of the story of Jesus’ taking a child in his arms, and Matthew repeats part of it in that connection (Mk 9:37; Lk 9:48; Mt 18:5). There the reference is to the child. The converse of the statement appears in Luke, addressed to the seventy (10:16): "He who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me." A wider application follows in Matthew’s discourse (10:41): "He who receives a prophet because he is a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward, and he who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward." The expression "because he is," literally "in the name of" (cf. KJV), might refer either to the receiver or to the one received, but the meaning is probably that he who receives a prophet or a righteous man because that man is a prophet or a righteous man will be considered as such himself and rewarded accordingly.
The third saying of the group (10:42) supports this interpretation but raises another question: "And whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward." Here "because he is a disciple" surely refers to the one who receives the cup of water; but, if so, the "little ones" are the disciples.
The reward of one who gives a cup of water is mentioned elsewhere in Mark (9:41). The expression there is, "whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ." That presents a difficulty that will be dealt with in the appropriate place, but it confirms the understanding of the "little ones" as disciples. Why then does not Jesus say here, "whoever gives to one of you"? Conceivably it is because he has in mind not only the twelve but all his followers. We shall encounter other references to "little ones" (Mk 9:42; Mt 18:6, 10. 14; Lk 17:2).
The second discourse ends (Mt 11:1) with a variation of the usual formula: "And when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities."