Day 158: Matthew 18:3-5

I assure you that unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven. The greatest in the Kingdom of heaven is the one who humbles himself and becomes like this child. And whoever welcomes in my name one such child as this, welcomes me.

The disciples come to Jesus ask him, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?”  From the perspective of history this is a pretty dumb question.  Even after all they have seen and heard, the disciples are still concerned with worldly success.  They are still preoccupied with either being the best, or at least identifying who they should be emulating or deferring to.  They still think this whole journey Jesus has taken them on is some kind of power trip.  They don’t understand.

How does Jesus respond?  He calls a child to come over to him and stand in front of the disciples.  He says that they must become like this child if they want to get into the Kingdom of heaven.  Jesus says they must not only become like children, they must welcome the children and treat them well.  They must treat children like they treat Jesus himself.

Today most children have a pretty soft life until they are at least 18.  Parents are required by law to provide them with all of their basic needs, and society provides them with a free education.  Some can sometimes get work permits at 14, but they are not allowed to work full time until they are 16 in most states.  Most children have their own beds, their own rooms, and lots of material possessions.  They may have to do a few chores around the house, but they have a lot of free time for tv, sports, video gaming, bike riding, hanging out with friends, or just playing around.  It’s a pretty good life.

But what was it like in Jesus’ time?  Here is an excerpt from an interesting website at http://calvinzelie.blogspot.com/2011/05/childhood-in-jesus-time.html that describes a typical child’s life in the time of Jesus:

In modern times, when we picture those children with Jesus, we might be thinking of the children of today…perhaps a cute little kindergartener. For today’s children, childhood lasts longer, and so, perhaps, does the innocence and trust that makes children proverbially well suited for the Kingdom of God. The children of Jesus’ time were more like little adults, moving quickly into lives of hardship and responsibility.

Even little children in Jesus’ day worked full time for their family.  That was their education – learning how to cook, farm, take care of a house, sew, tend animals, make crafts for sale, perfect a trade, etc.  Childhood wasn’t much different from adulthood, except that children were powerless.  They were the lowest ones on the ladder of success, utterly dependent on their parents for survival. Children back then had absolutely no legal rights whatsoever.

In this scripture Jesus is essentially repeating what he said way back on Day 9 in the beatitudes: “Happy are those who are humble; they will receive what God has promised!”  I think what Jesus is trying to tell them is that unless they stop spending time and energy trying to figure out how to be better than other people, they will never see the Kingdom of heaven.  The only way to get there is to give up all ideas about status and social class and learn to treat everyone the same.  They must look at all people – even powerless, incompetent little children – as though they are
important.  They have to show respect for everyone, regardless of social status.  Instead of trying to be kings they need to learn to treat everyone else like kings.

It’s pretty much the opposite of the American way.  Instead of striving for upward mobility, Jesus urges his disciples to go down, down, down to the bottom of the barrel – where the children and the other powerless people are – and devote themselves to lifting others up.

Here we have another scripture that reminds us that we still have a long way to go.  We still seem to think we’re closer to God when we are on the top of the world, but according to Jesus nothing could be further from the truth.  Jesus is down there at the bottom of the barrel lifting others up, and the glory of God is down there with him.  If you want to get to the top, you have to go to the bottom.

What does this scripture say to you?

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