Luke 18 contains one of my favourite verses in the entirety of the bible:
Let the little children come to Me, and don’t stop them, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I assure you: Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.
Now previously this verse didn’t register on my radar. It has only been as a result of Jo attending Youthworks that I have found it interesting. Namely, I am fascinated by how much we’ve inverted its meaning as a consequence of our culture.
Specifically, children are idealised to such an extent in our current society that we are liable to read the above verse and think, “Awww. Jesus even loves kids. He allows even the children to come around him”. I am certain that there are Sunday Schools or Pre-Schools that have this verse adorned with ruddy-nosed children gathering inside the enveloping embrace of Christ. It quickly becomes a cuddly image that loses the challenging lessons that Christ intends to teach.
It is important to remember that, contextually, children were not seen as the paradigm of innocence that we depict them as now. Their lot was not idealised or nostalgerised to the extent that we market items based on our interests as kids. Rather, in Jesus’ time, children were close to the most powerless members of society. The disciples were not rebuking people on the basis of their firm dislike of children, they were rebuking them on the basis of a cultural devaluation of kids.
Given this, Christ’s actions and comments are all the more striking. He not only dines with sinners like tax collectors; hangs out with the unclean like lepers; but, he also welcomes the infantile and dependent. He welcomes the children. Further, he encourages us all to act like them too.
This is a challenging call. Generally we polarise our world into dichotomies, one pole proving virtuous and the other, well… not so. Consider: strong/weak; attractive/ugly; intelligent/dumb; or, indeed, mature/childlike. We generally praise “growing up” and extol the virtues of independence and autonomy. Yet here Christ is suggesting the exact opposite,
Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it
Now I don’t have children of my own. However, I have two dear friends who have recently had a baby girl. A girl who is soon to be my God-daughter. Jo and I have shared the privilege of watching this child grow on a regular basis. Spending time with her, I have been amazed to witness her wholehearted dependancy on her parents. She relies on them comprehensively for food, affection, affirmation, love, hygiene, even identity. Her Mum and Dad are so integral to her sense of self that she feels uncomfortable when they leave her vision. When she is handed over to Jo she feels uncertain, looks to Mum who smiles affirmingly, and then feels safe to cuddle. Such is her reliance that she even looks to them to know who is safe and dangerous.
This child’s life is so thoroughly interwoven to her parent’s existence that, without them, she would not have the capacity to live on her own. Given this, I cannot help but wonder if I devalue God’s title of Father.
Rather than acting like a “little child”, is it possible that I welcome the kingdom of God like a teenager?
Do I trounce into his house, at all times of the night. Do I barely grunt at him when he asks how my day was. Do I complain at his discipline because, “you are so unfair”. Worse, do I idealise and plot the day when I can leave his provision and create a world of my own – be my own boss.
Perhaps, more concerningly, have I “grown up fully” and welcome the kingdom of God like an adult?
I like to visit on Sundays, make small talk whilst sipping tea. I look around His house at the mementos from my childhood, interests that I have grown out of. I am comfortable in His present for a little, but happy to get back to my home where I can live how I want. The “pleases” and “thankyous” and table routines are tolerable for a while, but it is not me. I’ll share a meal at his table over Sunday lunch, but this isn’t the source of my provision. I’ve got plenty of food in the fridge at home, this meal is more a formality. At the end of the day, I’ll kiss my parent’s goodbye and, as I walk out the door, forget of their world: the issues of mine are flooding in too quickly…
I find it really interesting that Jesus’ lesson is accompanied here, in Luke 18, by two examples of people living like children. The first example is presented in the Parable of the Persistent Widow. The context of this parable is given in verse 1,
He (Jesus) then told them a parable on the need to pray always and not become discouraged
The parable then goes on to depict a widow who, despite the poor reputation of the town’s judge, continued to appeal for justice. She approached him so frequently that, despite his evil nature, the judge relented and provide uncharacteristic justice in her case.
Now, at first, this doesn’t seem like a story of acting like a child. That is, until you sit down and watch an infant for any prolonged period of time. When hungry, a baby cries. If it isn’t fed immediately, it continues to cry. A child will request, and request, until its provider responds. You need only look at bleary-eyed new parents to recognise the tenacity of hungry children. Further, you need only look at these parents to realise their willingness to provide for their children. How often do I think of God like that?
The second example may be considered a little more cryptic. A rich young man approached Jesus and asks him,
“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
A fair and wise question. Christ’s response is direct and to the point: keep the commandments. When the Rich Man affirmed that he had kept the laws since childhood, Jesus challenges him,
‘You still lack one thing: Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come follow Me.’
I have often heard this passage preached on in the context of the sticky distraction that wealth can provide. The Rich Man loves his money so much that, despite an adult driven desire to obey the laws of the scriptures, he is unable to give up his wealth. What I have noticed, on this occasion, is that the Rich Man is not only unable to give up his wealth; he was also unwilling to give up the security of his wealth. He was unwilling to rely wholeheartedly on the provision of God, to welcome “the kingdom of God like a little child”.
The message is made clear, it is not the wealth that is the intrinsic evil. It is the false security that we imbue it with that makes it problematic. It is the worldly crutch that prevents us from falling into God’s love; embrace; and, provision like a little child does to his Father.
This teaching is hard stuff. I, frankly, feel a little dejected like the Rich Man. This kind of reliance – this kind of faith – feels more than the maxim of “believing in what you cannot see”. Rather, it seems more like, rejecting that which you can see in order to fall and be caught by what you cannot see.
Fortunately, Christ is clear when he states
What is impossible with men, is possible with God
This is what I need to rely on. Despite the apparent impossibility of this kind of faith, from my perspective; I need to continually remind myself of the possibility of this with God. I need to cry out and ask for what I cannot possibly hope to attain on my own. Further, I need to do so in the full expectance that my Father will provide it for me.
Weak; helpless; and, comprehensively reliant on God – I need to mewl like a babe.
Go to: Luke 19