At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
6 “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. 7 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! 8 If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.Matthew 18:1-9 (NIV)
Have you ever noticed how a baby or young child can bring a group of adults to a complete stop? Quickly the child becomes the focus of everyone around. Maybe it is their sense of innocence which causes one to want to stop and watch them. It might be our need to recapture our own youth in their actions and how they respond to the world around them. The craving for the simple demonstrated through them may draw our attention. Whatever the reason, a child can lead us to pause in the midst of a busy life. An individual may even be caught smiling or releasing a chuckle.
Jesus was fond of using a child to communicate the type of behavior and viewpoint which is expected of his disciples. Jesus is asked who can be considered the greatest in heaven. Jesus does not directly answer the question but instead he places a child before them and says that unless a person adopts the ways of a child, the person will not even get to heaven. Before someone can strive to be the greatest, the individual must first be a part of heaven by having the eyes and attitudes of what in that society was considered the lowest, a child. Jesus follows this idea with a warning not to be a stumbling block to others and/or one’s self.
In many ways, what Jesus says here can be difficult for us to accept. We are taught from an early age how important it is to be the greatest in whatever we attempt in life. Part of this greatness comes from maturing. Another part comes from amassing knowledge. For some, accumulating wealth, status and prestige are also essential parts of success. Jesus turns this upside down. He lifts up innocence, humbleness, curiosity, acceptance and joy as found in the example of a child as the important pieces. Are these not qualities of a young child at play? When these qualities are present, there is an openness. This openness allows for the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven to unfold before us. The stumbling blocks are when we try to diminish these qualities.
Your challenge, a challenge we all have before us, is as we mature and gain knowledge, we must never let go of the parts of our childhood which keep us open to the mystery of heaven.