“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me,but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
(Matthew 18:1–6 ESV)
In our churches today children and youth are the silent ones. They are dropped off in their wings of a church for two hours so Mom and Dad can “worship in peace”. The harried teachers are expected to form these young spiritually to make them into mature Christians. Why? I think it is because we do not have a comprehensive understanding of youth and children from a scriptural stand point.
Let’s consider this statement by Jesus (the “founder and perfecter of our faith”) from Matthew 18. This is one of those passages that should cause to stop and think about things for a moment. In the first century children were treated similarly to ours only without the cool cartoon characters and ping pong tables. They were largely considered an inconvenience until they could be productive adults in the synagogue and society.
Jesus says that one who has become like a child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. What does this mean? I think that we have a hard time understanding this because we push our kids to the fringes of our communities of worship. I love the fact that the Presbyterian tradition includes infant baptism because it drives home the reality that children are participatory members of the community of faith. While this is what we ought to be embracing, we do not. We are going to have a hard time knowing and understanding what it means to be a child in the kingdom when we do not worship with them.
A child asks questions, incessantly. A child laughs when things are funny. A child laughs when things are inappropriate. A child can not sit still. A child finds mystery, wonder, and awe in the smallest of things (just watch one looking at the dust particles in a ray of sunlight sometime). A child believes their dad when he tells them something. A child loves the outsider. A child trusts. A child has fun. A child dances to the beat. A child loves to read. A child loves.
Unfortunately these things about children annoy us. We find them disruptive. “A child is to be seen not heard.“
It gets worse, they get pimples and hormones. They get attitudes and they question everything. They seek for identity and authenticity. They no longer take simple answers to complex questions. They grow and change and develop. They look weird. They have awkward stages.
Unfortunately these things about growing children annoy us. We find them disruptive.
Jesus is the great subversive. He graciously embraces the fringes and broken. Those without identity he shows them who they are. So, the question is will you embrace the child?
Our next post will focus on one word: “turn”.