I was privileged to have a theological discussion with some kids a couple weeks back. I do mean it was a privilege. I came away very encouraged. In their concrete way of understanding and their unschooled response, they showed a level of theological astuteness and creative thinking that I found compelling. Far from just saying the darnedest things, these kids were saying the profoundest things. It was a good reminder of who my congregation really includes.
Children were central to Jesus’ teaching in a profound way as well.
“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. If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
A lot of conjecture has swirled around the command to ‘become like little children’; there are many aspects to childhood that could be repeated by adults and many of them undesirable. But verse four focuses on ‘the lowly position’ of a child and I think that is where we ought to focus. The social status of children is different in our culture and is thereby not where our minds naturally go with this passage, but let’s follow Jesus train of thought.
The disciples, and most adults, are pre-occupied with status. Yet Jesus, Lord of the entire universe, has no problem coming in the form of a servant to His people. In the Ancient Near East, there was a clear social pecking order and children were at the bottom most rung. They were very much to be seen and not heard, and also not seen where possible. But Jesus welcomes them into His presence and elevates their personhood.
I confess I gave very little attention to children until I became a father myself. There is a kind of empathy as a parent that opened my eyes to valuing children (anyone’s, not just my own) in a new way. I suspect a lot of better people than I come to this empathy without being a parent but for someone as obtuse as me, we need a personal lesson. Each person has a unique voice to which love must attend; whether it has matured yet into adulthood is not significant in the grand scheme of things.
But getting back to Jesus’ instruction, we are to give up our pre-occupation with status, welcome children (and anyone of even the lowest societal status), not trying to trip them up in their attempts to follow Jesus.
What glorious news! He who, of all beings in all the universe, might rightly be concerned about status is not at all. And so we need neither be too. Whether it is our own or someone’s else’s lack of credentials, we are all welcome, nay invited, to come to God as little children. What freedom! What relief! No posing, or even self-consciousness about the image we work so hard to project to others. God sees it all and sees through it all; He sees the truth and loves us all the same.
Lord, I give up those things I think are my accomplishments, those things I think will endear me to you. I am yours because you want me.