Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven? read it here.
“And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of [the disciples] and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Not long ago one of my students spotted a mistake that I had made while teaching math. I thought we were on lesson 77 but we were in fact only starting lesson 76. The class broke out in laughs and cheers when they discovered that their teacher had made a mistake. And to cap it off, the student who corrected me quipped a rough paraphrase of this passage in Matthew. “Mr. Hammond, Jesus said that children were smarter than adults.” He was just being cheeky and we all had a good laugh over it, but it does raise a good question: What did Jesus mean by pointing to a child as an example of greatness? What does it look like to turn and become like children - to humble yourself like a child?
There seem to be basically two approaches to answering this question: psychology and sociology. If you take a psychological approach to this, then you are basically forced to conclude that there is something inherent in children themselves which Jesus finds particularly praiseworthy. Was my student right – that children are greater than adults because they are smarter? Or is that they are more innocent? Or more humble? None of those options fits well with my theology or my experience as a parent, although there may be something to the idea of dependence. Children are functionally dependent upon others for everything and blissfully content with this arrangement. And dependence is very close to that greatest of all virtues: faith. (Someone once point out to me that he had never seen two children arguing about who was going to pay the bill.)
But if you approach this question from the perspective of sociology, you get a different answer (and I think a more persuasive one). The statement of Jesus comes in response to a question posed by his disciples: “Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” The motive behind this question is a desire to look good and be reckoned great by your peers (cf. Mark 9:33ff). This is a question about how other people perceive our status in society, specifically, the society of the perfect world to come. They are asking, “When God’s kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven, who will be reckoned top dog?”
By pointing to a child as the answer to their question, Jesus is drawing attention to the one person in their cultural, societal system who had the least respect, the least power, the least wealth, and the least prestige. Jesus’ demand that we ‘turn and become like children’ is parallel to the demand that we ‘humble [ourselves] like this child.’ The one who will be greatest in the kingdom of heaven is the one who is now least in the present age. It’s not the proud and independent rich of this world who are on track toward greatness in God’s kingdom. It is those who humble themselves before God and before other people who are on track toward greatness in God’s kingdom.
This raises a hard question: What drives you today? Is it the lure of wealth, power and prestige in this present age? Or the joy of humble service in the present age leading to the promise of greatness in the age to come?