by Erin Barger
Matthew 18:1-5: At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is 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.
Children are amazing creatures. They are reflections of our best (parents, stay with me here) and often embody qualities that we hope to emulate. Ironically, as children we dream of what we will be when we grow up; little do we know that our best self is, in many ways, the child we are so eager to leave behind. Children live their joy full out, with little to no reserve. They forgive quickly. They trust easily — so easily, in fact, Jesus goes on to warn the audience that hurting a child will not go unnoticed by Him.
The entree for this word from the Lord about children is interesting. Note which question by his disciples led Jesus here: Which of us will have the most power in your future kingdom? When Jesus Christ was on earth his followers had a difficult time understanding what his kingdom was really about. Many were tired of haughty Roman rule and were ready for Jesus to take His kingdom by force. Little by little they learned that His kingdom was not about force but about freedom, even submission. Yes, submission. Is there any word that makes us bristle more than this one?
His disciples were tough students (they remind me of someone … oh, me!). Even as Jesus was preparing for His death they were asking who would be the greatest in the kingdom … who will have the best robe … the biggest crown … the best seat in the heavenly house? When asked about the pecking order in this kingdom He came to establish, He called none other but a little child to the middle of the crowd and answered, “Whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus furthers the point by telling his followers that those who receive the child will have received him as well. What else do we know about Jesus to gather understanding here? We know He came to heal the brokenhearted and give rest to the weary, to set captives free. He exemplified power by laying His life down; teaching His followers of his omnipotence while denying himself and lifting up the powerless.
Christ said that if we were serious about being disciples, we would lift up the powerless as well. And across time and place in our world, who is more vulnerable than the very aged and the young? For this reason, school shootings are especially horrifying, earth-shaking, axis-turning. Elder abuse stands out as a crime against humanity, as well as one against God. It is likely no mistake then, that James defines pure religion as care for orphans and widows.
In our thirst for power (which we’ll often call relevance), it is tempting to connect self-concept to the opinions and perceptions of strangers and acquaintances. They are who we usually dress up for, practice speeches for, and put on our best self to benefit or impress. When planning a party for instance, most guest lists include people who have reciprocal invitations to offer, favors to grant. Christ used this example when he taught what a banquet given by a true disciple would look like. The attendants would be the poor, the disabled, the impaired: the vulnerable and overlooked.
Friends, my own discipleship is severely lacking. I intend, however, to keep walking toward a day when I see the world through the eyes of Christ rather than the eyes of self. I was there once, but it has been a while. It was when I was a child.
Prayer: God, in this season of quiet, move us to be still, grateful for and aware of the children in our lives. Show us your lovingkindness through them. Bring us closer to you through their expression of you. Equip us to train and teach them, and also to enjoy and learn from what they have to teach us. In our social lives, give us your eyes to see the overlooked and under-attended. Move us with compassion to do what Jesus did, and send your Spirit to heal the world through your servants at Oconee Street church.