The Kingdom Belongs to Such As These
Teaching Segment by Jeanette Eby
Sunday Gathering, January 15th, 2012
Matthew 18: 1-6 – The Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven
1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. 6 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
Matthew 19:13-15 – The Little Children and Jesus
13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.
14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.
The are some of the words us Commoners wrote down when we thought about what characterizes “little children” – authentic, playful, curious, imaginative, non-judgmental, creative, fun, inquisitive, open-minded, loving, uninhibited…
I could not reflect on these passages without thinking about the time I have spent in Bolivia over the past few years – some of the most challenging and inspiring times of my life. I have never felt so motivated and full of joy, while there were also many sad, difficult things to see and experience. But being with those kids, so full of life and love, taught me so much about the Kingdom of God. Here are a couple of videos that highlight the spirit of wonder and authenticity of these little ones:
“Ninos con Valor” (NCV) , the name of the foundation I volunteered with, means “children with value”. NCV works from the foundational belief that every child is a unique creation of God with innate value, having rights and deserving respect.
In Bolivia – and I am talking about Bolivia because it is coming from my own experience – children are undervalued. There are so many instances of abuse and neglect, children who are used by adults for their own convenience. Children who cannot remain children because their parents die or they have to work on the street to contribute to their families, if they still have one. It can be hard to understand this if we come from a more affluent background, where children are given more than what they need, and are the focus of many peoples’ lives.
Despite their past experiences, the children and young women I have come to know in Bolivia, are so full of love and their lives so full of hope. Because now, they are safe and cared for, they are loved and wanted and accepted, they have people believing in their potential. And they have so many dreams for the future, and welcome visitors such as myself into their lives with open arms. The love they offered me means more than they will ever know.
In lots of our language and practices here in Canada, we say we value kids. The government says they “Put families first” and the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction slogan says “Making Hamilton the Best Place to Raise a Child”. But what will actually ‘make Hamilton the best place to raise a child?” It won’t just be creating more breakfast programs or recreational opportunities for kids.
The well-being of children and adults is integrated– it’s not about “the best place to raise a child”, but about a healthy community where parents and grandparents and single adults and youth of many different backgrounds and abilities can feel cared for, that they belong and that they can contribute. Children deserve to grow up in a community where everyone is valued.
I don’t believe that Jesus is only literally talking about “little children” when he speaks in those two chapters in Matthew. He is talking about the least among us. Here is an excerpt from a sermon I came upon:
“I think there could be no better way of telling today’s disciples that the kingdom of God is absolutely for those who are so often treated as nobodies in our times. The kingdom of God is once and forever marked by the value every single one of God’s creatures is given – no matter how little they are regarded, or how much they are forgotten by those who hold the power in this world.”
As that statement says, in the Kingdom, everyone has value and it has nothing to do with their power or position in society. In God’s eyes, we are all created equal. What would the world look like if we all treated each other in this way?
Another thing that children do is ask questions and approach life with humility and wide open eyes. They are not afraid to admit they don’t know – they just ask! And they listen, with open ears and hearts! Our pride so easily gets in the way of the potential for learning and transformation, our desire to impress, when really, life is all about the learning and growing through our weakness and what we don`t know. This passage quoted from Evelyn Underhill talks about how to “look with the eyes of love” – something that I think we adults need to re-learn how to do:
“To look with the eyes of love” seems a vague and sentimental recommendation; yet the whole art of spiritual communion is summed up in it, and exact and important results flow from this exercise. The attitude which it involves is an attitude of complete humility and of receptiveness, without criticism, without clever analysis of the thing seen… the doors of perception are cleansed, and everything appears as it is. The disfiguring results of hate, rivalry, prejudice, vanish away. Into that silent place to which recollection has brought you, new music, new colour, new light are poured from the outward world.”
As cynical, jaded, broken adults it is easy to stop looking with the eyes of love. Too quickly, as we grow up, we are influenced by our culture… we learn who has power and who does not, we learn what is desirable and what is not, we start to fear people who are different than us, we become dissatisfied with ourselves and situation, we get hurt, we stop trusting people. We easily begin to see people and the world based on what we have experienced in the past based on the hurt and prejudice and fear that has come into our lives. Children see how we respond to this.
Children are hugely influenced by what they see around them, how they are treated, how they see others being treated. They learn quickly what ‘society’ values. They are too often victims of violence themselves, whether structural or direct, and those beautiful characteristics of childhood can get buried much too quickly. Jesus’ statement in Matthew is very very strong: “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” What are we saying/doing, or not doing, that impresses the minds and hearts of these little ones? We must always be aware of this.
There IS a place for cynicism (or better, realism?) and critical thinking/analysis. But cynicism and critical thinking on their own will not change the world. We need to critique and ask the tough questions – but we need also to see the possibilities for change, to still see goodness and beauty, to have patience, to experience joy and gratitude amidst the darkness and chaos. This is where we need God’s help to allow us to return see the world through the eyes of a little child, or “to look with the eyes of love”. Even though we cannot fully escape our past we can still be in the process of healing and forgiving, as individuals, local communities and globally – we can see the world anew, and can trust again. The healing and growing I have seen with the girls in Bolivia has been absolutely amazing and gives me hope that this is a real possibility.
It is important for us to show the little ones that hatred and prejudice is NOT part of God’s kingdom. And us, in our jadedness, need to let the little children (or the ‘least among us’ ) remind us and teach us what the Kingdom, what the Love of God is all about. We must let people look at us with the eyes of love – sometimes this can be hard when we are experiencing guilt and shame – and maybe we will be able to look on the world that way too. In God’s Kingdom, the least are the greatest. The last shall be first and the first shall be last. I will conclude with the Beatitudes from Matthew 5, which remind us what the Kingdom of God looks like and how we can be part of making His presence and Love felt in this world:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”