2 kings 6.8-17 and Matt 18.1-6, 10
Listen a long here! Just be warned I’d been on pain killers all day due to the pain from my sprained ankle. So I sound a little dopey and strangely posh (re: the pronunciation of Gals!)
This passage is a difficult one for me because I don’t have any children and neither do I know any. I mean, I’m not entirely clueless about children as I have met a few in the past. In fact I trained as a Primary teacher twenty years ago and did many training placements in schools. That was an experience I am unlikely to forget. It’s the smell you see, especially the four years olds…. But luckily I opted for the older age group so that became less likely of a problem. There were several events that I remember while on teaching practice. One was a child sat at my feet and using my soft cotton long skirt as comfort blanket while I read a story. She didn’t ask if she could use the hem of my skirt but simply sat sucking her thumb, quietly listening to the story in utter bliss.
Then there was little Helen, a bold little girl who wasn’t afraid of the boys and their rough games. She used to tear around the playground like a whirling dervish! Sadly one lunch time her feet went faster than her head. I could see what was going to happen. She slipped on the loose gravel on the tarmac. She fell, splat and rolled and rolled across the ground, grazing her knees, hands and doll like face. Boy did she cry while shouting Mr Batt! Mr Batt! The name of her teacher rang out around the playground which suddenly went eerily quiet. She stumbled towards us group of teachers as tears poured down her little red cheeks pitifully asking for help.
These little girls, quite different both in age and personality, yet both automatically showed trust in those around them to care for their needs because they knew they were valued for whom they were.
A child features in Jesus’ parable in the scripture reading we heard this evening but not because they are being noisy or demanding attention. In fact have you ever stopped to think about how often children are described or even given a voice in the scriptures? I can think of babies being mentioned but that’s just about it. Only the adults mentioned and have speaking parts. Yet here is Jesus actively pointing one out and pretty much embarrassing His disciples by talking about the child being better than they are! But why would they be embarrassed? Well, Jesus is once again explaining the Kingdom of God to His followers who have now asked yet another dumb question about who will be the greatness in the Kingdom. Thank God for dumb questions because I know that’s the sort of stupid question I would come up with!
But let’s back up a bit and remind ourselves about just what the Kingdom of God means. A while back, the scripture reading was about Jesus using no less than five different ways to explain what the kingdom of God is to the disciples. We discovered that all Jesus’s parables have a sense of the Kingdom being something that is rare as well as precious and ruled by God who, despite having great power, chooses to work slowly and patiently through seemingly vulnerable things.
A child is vulnerable thing and, in fact in the time of Jesus, children were counted as things to be owned like possessions which could be bought and sold. Children were not even thought of as a fully formed human until they passed through puberty. And so the child in the parable is not referred to by their name or even by their gender but as an ‘it’. Tom Wright suggests that it was quite likely that this child was a girl as girls were considered even less value than boys as they were expensive to bring up only to be given away in marriage. Parents got little in return for their ‘investment’ and probably had to stump up the dowry too.
So for the disciples to be told that they had to “become like children” meant to lose all their status in society and their idea of who they were as disciples of Jesus. This must have been utterly confusing for them as I guess because they were right in the inner circle of Jesus’ followers, they felt they had some social standing, perhaps even at the same level as priests as, after all, they were now part of the royal priesthood of God and were out there, doing the things that Jesus did, healing the sick and casting out demons. So, why shouldn’t they believe that they have some special place of greatness within the Kingdom of God? But Jesus says to them, no, listen, you’ve still got it all wrong. The Kingdom of God is for all who have no special value in society. The Kingdom is in the small things, the hidden things, the things that not given a second thought or any value. The Kingdom of God
But then Jesus goes one step further as not only does everyone have to become like children but they also have to “become humble like this child”. Jesus is making the point that to be his disciple, to become a child does not mean to give up rational thinking or start being naïve by pretending everything is fine. No, Jesus is saying to be childlike in their attitude to God. Jesus wants his followers and so us, to be trusting, ready to love and be loved, ready to listen and learn but not be self-centred or eager for status. Serving and being served are like folds in the same cloth. Through giving of ourselves we gain more of ourselves as we discover more of how God wants us to be. Once again, Jesus counter approach to living takes the disciples and us by surprise. And you know what; doesn’t that take some of the pressure off to be a so called good Christians? You know, the frustration at not being spiritual enough or holy enough or prayerful enough because actually any attempt is enough in the eyes of God. From a small mustard seed grows a huge tree. From small amount of trust in God grows a huge awareness of God’s unconditional love that’s always been there. And so we become Kingdom people, aware of our true value in God and in our fellowship with each other. From Jesus we learn that we are not on a spiritual ladder continually grasping at the higher rungs. And if we’re not on a ladder we can’t look down on those who we think are not as good as us or, conversely, look up to those we think are better than us. We are children of God and so each of us are to care for everyone who crosses our path as Jesus commands ‘Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones’. For we all are ‘little ones’ in the eyes of God. The God who loves everyone, loves us, just the way we are. God the Father who yearns for all to be truly happy as His Kingdom People.