“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3-4
This passage comes shortly after Jesus twice reveals He will die, and to follow Him we must take up our cross. Sadly, the disciples miss the point, and ask: “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” The disciples hear Christ’s message, and ask who among us will receive the greatest share of the rewards.
In response, Jesus tells us if we want to achieve greatness in the Kingdom, we must become like little children.
It’s easy to miss the point. From a contemporary view, we may think of life revolving around the worth of our children. Or we may – as many atheists and critics have – misread this as saying we have to think in a childish way in order to embrace faith in a modern society. Both readings miss Jesus’ point, which is about humility and two very different definitions of “great.”
In this world’s terms, the “greatest” is the one who has acquired the most stuff. Money. Property. Power. Followers. The “greatest” of this world have the most, and are seated above their neighbors. But, Christ calls us to a fundamentally different meaning of greatness.
Kingdom greatness assumes the posture of a child in ancient Judea. In that society, children held no worth of their own. There was no more humble place in Jesus’ day than that of a child, and he calls us to embrace that humility. We’re called to a life that seeks no reward, no position or collection of belongings greater than our neighbor.
Greatness in the Kingdom kneels to wash the feet of the lowly. It calls to serve, rather than be served. It demands we lay down ourselves for our neighbor. Greatness is found in taking up the humility of the cross. And on that cross, where we die to this world, we find ourselves reborn – as children of God, seeking nothing more, and nothing less, than to live beside our neighbor in the Kingdom.
Eternal Father, give us the strength of humility, to die to the selfish concerns of this world that we may rise as children of the Kingdom, heirs eternal with our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.