And they were bringing even their babies to Him so that He would touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them. But Jesus called for them, saying, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” (Luke 18:15-17 NASB)
Jesus says stuff that are often very hard to hear. Sometimes the things he brings a message that’s more PG than G. But in His culture kids weren’t real people until they had survived to age 12. After that they were out of the woods of spontaneously dying, and adults could invest in them. So for Jesus to be open to blessing them was a big deal to parents for whom this was not normal.
It was so out of the normal expectations of “religious teachers” that the disciples saw it as a problem. Jesus not only welcomed the infants, but He uses this perceived problem to make a point about the Kingdom (never miss a teaching opportunity). So, Jesus calls the disciples together and tells them He welcomes children because the Kingdom belongs to them (is of these). In other words, all those criteria of chapter 14 (14:25-33) are somehow met in some quality of children.
So what is this quality of children? What is it about these that holds the key to the Kingdom of God? Kids in our culture not only begin selfish, our culture tends to reward and emphasize this approach to life. So we’re raising generation after generation of narcissists. In Jesus’ day children died almost as often as lived, so families tried to have a lot of them, and keep them alive as best they could. They were in danger a lot as their parents spent much of their time surviving. So keep in mind the value placed on children was fairly low. Think “third-world” when hearing Jesus say these words. It isn’t quite the same as in our culture.
But even so, what’s this quality? Might it still be found among children today? Is there something we, as modern, sophisticated adults can learn from ones such as these? There better be if we want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I’m pretty sure that we struggle with hating our families and our own souls, carrying a painful method of execution we don’t deserve, and giving all our possessions to the poor (Luke 14:25-33). So maybe the lesson of children is easier to grasp and make real? Okay, probably not, but let’s give it a go.
I think the lesson is the innocence with which children approach their world. Sure there is a sense of naivete that goes with that, and who wants to be thought of as naive. On the other hand it is exactly that sense of what others think that may be the key here. Children don’t know what they don’t know, and we grow up we know more and know more of what we don’t know. I think this plays into our fears, and erodes faith. We think we know more than we do, and don’t know as much of what we don’t know as we think. Yes, we’re dumber than we think we are.
Children simply believe that what their parents say is true. Parents are fallible people who try their best to make the world of the child as safe as possible. But the world isn’t safe. God tells us what He’s done, what He wants, and what happens if we don’t. Children simply do it. That’s it, no questions. They have other things to worry about, like where the toys are, and how to get to the cookie jar. As God works with those in His Kingdom, He wants us to accept Him as He is. He wants us to receive Him as children. We want to think it through. We are skeptical, practical, and wise; or rather we think we are.
The view of a child of God is actually more practical because it’s less skeptical and less wise. But here’s the other thing that we often miss about what Jesus is saying. We seem to miss that the expectation of God is that we be children, not adults. In other words, He doesn’t expect us to know it all, have it figured out, be mature about Him, and be able to dialogue with Him as “equals”. Think about our prayers. Don’t we often approach Him that way though? The bar is lower than we think, but we’re missing His standard for ours. Weird isn’t it? It’s easier than we think, but we reject it for it’s simplicity.
Well, that’s not the only reason we reject God’s standard. It’s simple, but it’s also hard, and costs us everything. Children don’t grasp the value of what the Kingdom costs, and so gladly pay it. Maybe that’s a better concept of what we are to learn from children about the Kingdom of God. The value of what we seek to keep, the pain we suffer as we let that stuff go, and the emptiness we feel without it is really meaningless compared to what we gain with the Kingdom. Maybe that’s it.
What’s your view through this knothole? What do you learn of the Kingdom from children?