He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:2-3)
When Jesus’ disciples were fighting about who was the greatest, Jesus used the teachable moment as an opportunity to help them understand something incredibly important about what it meant to be a follower of His. This is an idea that’s mostly misunderstood as we read the Bible today because of our view of children in the 21st century.
In today’s American culture, little children are valued to the point of being worshiped: they’re spoiled beyond imagination. But this wasn’t the case in the Jewish culture 2000 years ago. Children weren’t of any value at all. They had no rights, and they weren’t deserving of anything. Unlike today when a child does chores and receives money as compensation, children then accepted gifts from their parents (if they even received gifts) as though they were completely undeserving of what was given.
When Jesus told the disciples that they needed to become like little children, he was referring to the meek, undeserving nature of children in that culture. To become great in God’s Kingdom was to make oneself a servant. In fact, the Aramaic word Jesus used for “child” is interchangeable with “servant.” Children had no rights; they demanded nothing and were of humble heart. Rather than ordering servants to do as they desired, children were the servants who did the bidding of others.
So how childlike are you? Are you meek and lowly? Or are you assuming and demanding? The way to be great in God’s Kingdom isn’t to fight for the top; it’s to put yourself at the bottom.
Father, help me to be like a child. Rather than assuming that I am somehow entitled or deserving, let me humbly approach You as one who is simply blessed to be in Your presence. When moments arise that I think I’m worthy of Your acceptance, bring humility to me so I may elevate You to Your rightful place.