In Matthew 18:1-9 (NIV), the disciples asked Jesus who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
A short time later in Matthew 19:14 when people brought little children to Jesus for a blessing, the disciples rebuked the people for bothering Jesus. Jesus’s response to the disciples’ rebuke was similar to what he had already told the disciples: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
How could the disciples have forgotten so soon Jesus’s teaching about children and the kingdom? Did they really forget or simply not pay any attention to it? Did it slip their minds, or did they conclude it just didn’t make any sense?
How is it that after hearing this teaching for centuries, we don’t pay much attention to it either, unless we count the times we argue with each other like children fighting over toys and such. Was Jesus saying something to sound sweet or nice, or did he say something profound?
Think about it. Jesus tells us who is the greatest in the kingdom and to whom the kingdom belongs. He equates a child with himself. He also says that we will never enter the kingdom unless we become like children. That’s pretty big news. I’ll venture to say that it is indeed profound. Yet I’m afraid we give what he says about children and the kingdom short shrift.
I’m not exactly sure how to interpret what Jesus said, but given the context of all his teachings, I believe that he was talking about love. Unfortunately, not all children are raised in an atmosphere of love, but if they are, they will love like no one else–with all their heart, soul and mind. Jesus said that “whoever takes the lowly position” of a child is great in the kingdom just like the child. Humility and love go hand in hand.
There’s a lot to unpack in this teaching of Jesus. I wonder if we’ve even begun.