He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
During Jesus’ time, children were considered second-class citizens, along with tax collectors and sinners. Children were unproductive and burdensome so far as society was concerned.
So in the world’s eyes, for Jesus to receive a child was considered foolish and because of it he lowered himself in the eyes of many. I am not so sure we have come too far from that today, even though we pride ourselves on educating all children and trying to make sure they are cared for through social services. However that attitude persists pretty much around the world. In our own time we have seen children as frontline targets, killed, maimed and recruited to fight, and used as frontline targets. In many middle-eastern countries children are raped, abducted, enslaved and forced into marriage. But to witness the victimizing of children we don’t have to leave the United States.
Not only are many children in the US frequently abused physically and sexually, we have seen our own government abuse them. In the last two years, government officials routinely removed the children of immigrants at the border and put them in detention. Abducting them from their parents wasn’t enough, the children were often caged, and tranquilized with powerful medicines. Even now, long past the court-ordered deadline for the administration to reunite families, there are still hundreds of children waiting to be reunited with their parents.
Jesus received children, and when the disciples began to bicker and argue about who was the greatest, he set a child before them, saying, “Whoever receives one such child receives me and the one who sent me.” If we want to receive the kingdom, we must receive Jesus with the faith of a child. Jesus is not received by pomp and circumstance, but by humility. Jesus is received by those who are willing to receive a child the way he did.
Being number one in God’s kingdom is not about overpowering one another. It’s about receiving and giving the love of God. Almighty God created us and stooped so low in our sinful world to be beaten, mocked, and killed so that lost ones like you and I might be found and forgiven. Believe it or not, that lesson is best taught by a small child. Children don’t edit themselves; they don’t calculate: they just tell it as it is, or as they understand it to be. A child can teach us to play, and turn loose of the schemes of our ego. To receive a child is to receive a vision of the way the world is meant to be. When we stop clinging to what we think we know and what we think we are, we can go out into the world without fear, insecurity, or judgment, as true Children of God. Jesus invites his disciples and us to learn child-like attitudes of wonder, faith, simplicity and trust. He challenges us to let go of the world’s view of greatness and cling with our whole heart and soul to the simplicity and humility of a child.
Almost without fail, when I do a children’s sermon I learn something about God’s love and our faith from one of the children. I almost always am amazed and wonder how did the child know this? I learn from the children as I am teaching them a Bible story, because they are so open in sharing.
In one of the “Peanuts” cartoons, Lucy’s baby brother, Linus, asks his sister, “Why are you always so eager to criticize me?” Lucy, in her self-possessed way, says, “I just think I have a knack for seeing other people’s faults.” Linus then asks Lucy, “What about your faults?” Lucy responds with confidence, “I have a knack for overlooking them.” How is that for openness and honesty?
- When you watch a child play or you listen to them talk to you do you see their openness to learn and become like you? If so what images of love and humility are you teaching them?
- What lessons have you learned about God and God’s love from the children you know?
- What lessons are we teaching our children about openness to others, and loving others as God loves us?
Sue is NLS Spiritual Director, since 2019 and is a retired Lutheran Pastor (ELCA). Active in VdC since 1995, she has served two terms on the Board of the Texas VdC Secretariat, and also on the Texas Gulf Coast VdC Board as Spiritual Director since its start-up in 2017.