Matthew 18:1-7 (NIV)Perhaps I am jumping the gun a bit and should have waited for Saturday, when the lectionary offers me an even better known verse from the same book, Matthew 19:14: Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” But I didn’t.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
“If anyone causes one of these little ones — those who believe in me — to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!”
As the father of little children (I’m not clear on what age Jesus is referring to, but with my kids being eight and younger, I consider myself something of an authority on the subject), I’m somewhat curious as to what precisely Jesus means when he urges people to change and become like little children. I presume it has more to do with childlike wonderment and trust than it does with the kind of decision making my children exhibit on a daily basis.
Between questionable (at best) thought processes and a near absence of impulse control, there are plenty of ways in which we clearly should not become like little children. For example, I cannot recall the last time I forgot to go to the bathroom until it was too late. For Max it was Sunday. Max also was the child who, when I came home from work today, was standing outside the back door, literally dripping from head to toe and begging to be let indoors. At least this time the culprit was some water table and hose play with Jack and not an active bladder. And don’t even get me started on food choices, perhaps our largest non-school challenge as parents.
But there’s something about kids, isn’t there? As I wrote earlier, the sense of wonderment is remarkable, and for parents the treat is getting to watch your children encounter the world. Observing them the first time they see snow or get in the pool or go trick-or-treating (Jack famously exclaimed: “Mom! Dad! It worked!”) or any number of experiences you’ve grown to accept as commonplace can bring an entirely new appreciation for living your normal life. Being the one who introduces them to such happenings, remarkable only for the way they react, is a grand privilege.
|Max gets ready to not sing during Sunday's worship service.|
Perhaps Jesus refers to the way children come to Him — the way they learn the story of God and his amazing grace. (This is a fitting time to recall a line from that hymn — “How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.”) In the same vein, I took a moment to ask Max, my wonderful four-year-old who just finished his first week of Vacation Bible School, what he learned about God last week. His answer, minus a few of my leading questions and some pausing to wrangle with a box of fruit snacks, follows:
“He changes the leaves. He can also give people new life. When they die. That’s when Jesus died. And they said he was still alive. Can’t you believe that, people who disappear can come back in life? Isn’t that awesome?”
It certainly is awesome, little man. May you always think it so — and may you never lose your sense of wonder.
A prayer for June 20:
Lord, I thank you for the chance to see the wonders of your world through the eyes of my children. I am blessed to watch them as they grow and experience new things, and I am honored with the responsibility to teach them about you and your creation. Please grant me the childlike qualities you seek in your people that I might be pleasing in your sight. Help me be welcoming to all children in your name. Amen.