People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him tough them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.
This morning my three-year old, Logan the Bear, came down stairs and without a “Good morning Daddy,” or a “How are you Daddy?,” he let loose with a surly, “Give me lunch!” Is that how I’m supposed to receive the Kingdom of God; demanding and confused about what meal comes when. Is that what the Psalmist said, “Every morning I rise to meet you Oh Lord. Now fix my dinner. I want ice cream!”
My seven-year old pitched a fit when I told him he couldn’t go play video games at 8am (I know…I’m a jerk) forgetting that I had just let him watch an hour of T.V. and waited on him hand and foot while he ate breakfast. So when Jesus said I should be like a child he meant I should be ungrateful?
In the last five minutes I’ve had to tell my daughter four times not to dig through our junk drawer. Should I receive the Kingdom while not listening, doing whatever I want to do? (Excuse me for a minute while I put my daughter in time out for going through the drawer a fifth time.)
Yeah, yeah, yeah…children are beautiful, sweet, innocent, curious…there are a thousand things we can say about kids, and that is the problem. I’ve heard this passage in Mark used to demand Jesus followers be everything from energetic to thoughtful, from persistent to joyful, from dependent to evangelistic. When a passage is vague, like this one, I can really make it say whatever I want it to. So, if we just stay focused on these four verses I can say that Jesus wants me to receive the Kingdom like an ungrateful, disobedient, surely, kid who has his meal times confused.
Over the last several months I’ve been researching and writing Sunday school material for Valley and one week of the material was focused on this passage so I actually had to figure out what Jesus was talking about. I learned a ton, not just about this passage but also about one of my favorite scriptures, the rich young ruler. Let’s start there.
In the story a man ran up to Jesus and asked Jesus how he might inherit eternal life. After some back and forth Jesus tells the man there is only one thing that the man needs to do, sell everything he owns and give it to the poor. The man goes away sad.
The next few verses I found interesting…
The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard is it to enter the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields – and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
I feel silly never connecting these two passages before, but after reading them together it is clear to me that one leads into the other. The young man is rich. He has a lot of stuff. And although he has always been a good moral up-standing church kid, he has allowed his stuff to define him. The status of “rich” clearly holds an important place in the young man’s life.
In comparison we have these kids running around at Jesus’ feet. They have nothing. Children in our world are dependent on adults but they are valued as precious. In the first century this wasn’t necessarily true. Childhood didn’t carry the place of honor then we bestow on it now.
The guy with lots of stuff, lots of status, lots of selfish ambition and vain conceit can’t receive the Kingdom of God.
The simple, lowly kids with nothing; Jesus lifts them up as how we should all be.
In this light the statements, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!…With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Receiving the Kingdom, this life in right relationship with God and people, demands that we have an attitude of humility, understanding that we are broken and in need of repair. If we don’t understand we are sick we’ve got no use for medicine. If we don’t get that we are messy sinners then we don’t understand our need for grace.
More and more I realize the best thing I can do is admit that I don’t have it all together.
(I think my kids are awesome by the way…even when they come down stairs early in the morning demanding lunch.)
Jesus used this idea of children in Mark to talk about leadership as well. We’ll look at that next.