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Little children

More and more mothers were arriving with their children; some were quiet or shy, hiding behind their parents. Others were bolder, running around and interacting with other children; some were upset, and screaming. The disciples felt their control slipping away, and the concentrated, thoughtful nature of their time with Jesus was getting lost, amidst the crowd of women and children; this was their time for space with Jesus, which they couldn’t have amongst the noise of the children, and the mothers trying to reach Jesus. Moreover, this wasn’t the usual sort of crowd, of people wanting healing, or of those wishing to listen to Jesus. This was mothers wanting Jesus to bless their children. And forcing themselves too close. Jesus and the disciples were going to get no rest; so the disciples took control, and started to usher the women away. Some went sadly, calling to their children; others objected: they only wanted a brief moment with the rabbi, that he might bless their child. The disciples were stunned when Jesus called out to them to stop; to let the children come to him, for the Kingdom of heaven belonged to such as these. There was a moment of complete quiet, as both mothers and disciples took on board what Jesus had said. The Kingdom belonged to little children? Even the mothers hadn’t expected that. Some of the disciples started to organise a queue, that each family would get their time with Jesus; the younger disciples ran after those who had already turned away, and ushered them back. The children in the queue played with each other; those with children who were upset were taken to the front of the queue, that they might see the teacher first.  

 

Once they had all gone, the disciples sat to ponder the meaning of this. Children were the least and the last; the Kingdom of Heaven belonged to them? But it made sense, John said: hadn’t Jesus already told them that the last should be first? Wasn’t it all part of his teaching, if only they would listen with an open mind, not blinded by cultural expectations? The women, also, went away thoughtful; they had wanted the teacher to bless their children, but had come away with so much more.

 

I wonder how many of us have truly meditated on that passage (Luke 18:15-17). It would be so easy to pass over those few verses in preference to what goes before (the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector) or what comes after (the rich young ruler). Yet verse 17 states that whoever does not receive the kingdom like a child will not enter; it is fairly important, and one which is crucially placed between the two passages either side. That you had to enter the kingdom like a child must have been just as shocking as the idea that a tax collector would go home more justified than the sinner or the thought that the pious young ruler might not enter due to his riches. Do we think along the same lines as the disciples, however reluctant we are to admit it?

 

Would we accept that the scruffy homeless person might go home more justified than us? Might we see all our possessions as getting in the way of our receiving the kingdom? Do we, can we, receive the kingdom as a child? And how would that be, given the wide-ranging nature of children, and how they receive gifts?

 

Go back and let go of all that might ‘justify’ you getting into the kingdom: the pharisee saw his tithing and fasting as a way of proving his worth to God; the rich ruler saw his keeping of the commandments as similar, although he may have realised he lacked something. Do we do the same? Do we try to justify our acceptance to God? ‘Look, I attend church once a week, and volunteer regularly’; ‘look, I give all my spare time to the church, which wouldn’t survive without me’; ‘look, I pray for an hour a day, and spend much of my time reaching out to those in need’. There is nothing wrong with any of these activities, and much that is good about them. But they don’t justify us in God’s eyes, nor will they buy us entry into the kingdom. What will?

 

Nothing.  

 

We cannot justify ourselves in God’s eyes, and nothing we do or try or believe will buy us entry into the kingdom. We cannot buy entry. It is a free gift; it is something we can only receive; and we can only receive it as a little child: gratefully, knowing that we are dependant on God for this gift. We can only come to God as a little child, and allow ourselves to be held, carried in God’s arms, completely dependant on God, and on nothing else. This may be the end of all our journeying: to give up all that comes between us and the love of God; to relinquish all that we use to try and justify ourselves; to let go of anything that we try to convince God that we are lovable. For that is all a waste of time; God already knows and loves us, and if we can come to God as a tiny child, and allow ourselves to be held, that may be all that is necessary. All else that we might do is a response to that love, that relationship, not a justification of it.



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