Matthew 18:1-5, 10
Pictures of their young children are a prized possession of many proud parents. They value especially the wholesomeness and spontaneity that children reveal in candid snapshots taken without posing. In such pictures, children reveal their innocence. They are at an age where everything around them seems good and beautiful. They expect and depend on the love and care of their parents. And they respond to their parents with their love. It is about young children that our Lord speaks to us in today's gospel reading.
Surprisingly enough the context for these words of Jesus was provided by a question from his disciples. They wanted to know who would be the greatest among them in heaven. This question comes up several times in the gospels, and was evidently a concern of the apostles and disciples. There is a slightly different account of this scene in Mark 9: 33-37. There is also the story of the ambition of James and John as recounted Mark 10: 35-44. When the followers of Jesus came to believe that he would have a kingdom, they began to wonder what place they would have in that kingdom. Since they were his close followers during his travels in Galilee and Judea, they expected that they would also have a high place in his kingdom. In response to their question Jesus speaks of the necessity of becoming like little children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus is referring not to the innocence of little children but rather to their dependence on and trust in their parents. Just as little children depend on and trust their parents, so must the disciples, and all of us who believe, depend on, and trust in God. Jesus is telling us that it is only by becoming like little children in this sense that we can enter the kingdom of God. We must humbly trust in God in the same way that little children trust in their parents.
The words of Jesus are contrary to what our modern world is telling us. We constantly hear the call to power and fame and wealth. And those who attain it are held up as an example for all of us. Humility is often scorned. But today the words of Jesus remind us that if we truly want to get to heaven we must listen to him and do as he bids his disciples on this occasion.
By Tom Bannantine