“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Matt 18:3
Jesus tells his disciples they need to become like children to enter his kingdom. Why? What qualities do children embody that make them fit for Jesus’ kingdom?
Well, its not innocence. Children have to learn not to be selfish, not to occupy the center of their own little world. Of course, most of us never learn any of these lessons. That being said, children are not innocent. Children steal other children’s toys. They say mean things. We’re not born innocent and then learn to be selfish. We’re not born selfless and kind and then learn to be selfish and mean. No, our ingrained biological tendency (what Paul calls “life in the flesh”) is to look out for numbero uno. And so children aren’t innocent. And Jesus isn’t telling us to become innocent like children to enter his kingdom. And so what does Jesus mean when he says that we have to change and become like children?
First, children are socially insignificant. In Jesus’ day, the ladder of social prominence went something like this: state officials, men, slaves, women, cockroaches, children. Children were the lowest rung on the ladder. They had no social status. Children were drains on the household income. Now, this is so far removed from our western view of children that it’s really hard to grasp. But children were nobodies in Jesus’ day. Many people despised them (they hated dogs too). And that’s why Jesus says, to enter my kingdom, you have to “go and sit down at the lowest place” when you’re invited to a dinner (Lk 14:10). Becoming a child is the basis of Jesus’ statement that “all who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matt 23:12). In other words, Jesus’ kingdom, in a real way, is found in the “least likely, lowest rung” places in our society. To become a child is to descend into greatness, to climb down that ladder of social prominence and to spend time on the lowest rung of the ladder. That’s a piece of the change that must take place inside of us. And it’s a matter of the heart. After all, Jesus never began a parable with the words, “the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a country club.”
Second, children are incompetent. And they know it. They depend entirely on their daily bread from others. And this is how Jesus wants his disciples to be with their Father in the heavens. Jesus wants us to live lives of radical trust and dependence. Jesus doesn’t want us thinking that we can do anything on our own. He wants us to learn to rely on heaven’s resources and God’s abundance. That’s what childlike dependence is all about. And it’s necessary if we’re to move deeper into God’s kingdom.
FOR THE WEEKEND: Seek creative ways to change and to become like a child. Maybe God will give you an interesting opportunity to spend time with people on the lowest rung of the societal ladder. Or maybe you’ll take “baby steps” towards a greater life of dependence on God in all that you do. Either way, do something this weekend to change, to become like a child, and to move deeper into God’s kingdom.