Scripture: Matthew 18:1-14
Key verses: (4-5) 4 Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
Reflection: Children in first-century Palestine had no status, no rights, no voice. So, the answer Jesus gives to the disciples’ question, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” is a surprising one. The question comes filtered through earthy understandings of power and status; are the greatest not those who have titles, those who have wealth, those who command large armies, or those who sit on thrones of gold? Perhaps they expect an answer that lifts up the most pious follower or one of the wise religious leaders, or even they expect the answer to be one of the prophets of old. Jesus calls a little child over to them, pointing out that those who are like children are the greatest.
Using children as models for who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus reverses expectations about who is valued and accepted. The social and economic understanding of children in Palestine during the first century is evidence to the radical message of Jesus and provides a deeper meaning to those who belong in God’s kingdom. Children do not claim anything for themselves. They are utterly dependent on others for survival. Jesus uses a child to model the life of faithful discipleship, a life that is completely and utterly dependent on God.
We have waited, watched, and prepared in Advent. We have celebrated the birth of Christ; our long expected Jesus has come. Now it is time to live in the knowledge of God’s indwelling on earth. The ministry that was birthed at Christmas is a ministry of reversal: from last to first, from lowly to lifted high, from weary to rested, from child to King.
When you think about children, what comes to mind? Pure joy and unabashed laughter; deep and expanded imagination, stretching reality beyond perception; humility and acceptance and love? I wonder what life would look like if we became like children. I wonder how the world would look through the humble eyes of a child. I wonder how we could partner with Christ in ministry with the expansive imagination of a child.
God calls us beloved children and that is what we are.
Prayer: As a child you came to dwell with us, O God, your Word made flesh. In the Christ-child your kingdom is revealed. Humble us so that we may become like children, utterly dependent on you. May we join in Christ’s mission with imagination, joy, and love. Amen.
Author: Ben Brannan
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].