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. “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.
Happy Christmas Eve day! It seems proper to spend some time contemplating the child whose birth we celebrate tomorrow and puzzling over how we can become like Him too.
Jesus in this passage is asked an interesting question by the disciples “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”. I get the sense that some of the disciples (Peter, James, and John perhaps) were expecting Jesus to say something like “my followers are the greatest, and especially you Peter”.
Jesus upended this thinking, and their vanity, by inviting a child into their midst and saying “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
This passage reminds me of an interesting riffle I passed over back in the Psalms (Psalm 8:1-9). In that passage the praise of children and infants reminded me of this passage in Matthew. So what do children possess that Jesus’ learned and faithful disciples lacked? What about a child’s posture and perspective is different?
If I were to pick the top three attributes that all children possess throughout the world I would say: 1) humility; 2) innocence; and 3) curiosity. Let’s explore each of these.
Humility is all about knowing who you are and how important you are relative to others. Children know what they do not know and they are not afraid to admit it. Jesus says “takes the lowly position of this child”. Children are not CEOs or presidents yet apparently if we are to be “big” in God’s Kingdom we must learn to be humble like a child.
Innocence is typically viewed as an attribute of someone unspoiled by the evils of the world. Unfortunately, the news is full of evil people willing to take advantage of the lowly position of children to do incredibly evil things. Since Jesus is telling us here that we are to become as children He has strong words for anyone who takes advantage of us “children”.
He says “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 millstone is a really big rock with a hole in the middle, kind of an anti-life preserver.
The idea of being tossed into the sea with a heavy weight attached to one’s body is a potent word picture. Descending into the cold, lonely, lightless depths of the sea, drowning along the way, to be eternally separated from warmth and light. In many ways this seems a more fitting vision of hell than fire and brimstone – quiet, lightless, separation from God.
The third attribute, curiosity, is not specifically called out here , but I believe it is implicit. Children want to know, they are curious. They seek and knock on doors constantly to learn about the world. Jesus wants His followers to do this too. Or to quote a famous movie…”it’s the question that drives us Neo”.
So what are the take home points here: 1) hang out with, and learn from, children. This may mean unlearning some of our adult ways; 2) fiercely protect our own innocence and the innocence of other “children” trying to faithfully follow God; and 3) always be curious. Seek answers and knock on all the “doors”.
Prayer: God help us to become like little children and protect those seeking to do the same.