Truly, I say to you, whoever doesn't receive the kingdom of God
like a child shall not enter into it.
Jesus is in the midst of his final journey to Jerusalem. He has told the disciples he is going there to be persecuted and die. The disciples have not grasped the full import of what he has said, but they know their Lord must be feeling weary and burdened as he contemplates the coming trouble in Jerusalem. The crowds continue to press on Jesus and the disciples. Lepers, the sick, the demon-possessed, and just people who wanted to see what was going on keep the pressure on Jesus to the point the text tells us "they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them." This was simply too much for the disciples; after all, everyone deserves a little space, a little peace and quiet occasionally, right?
Infants and children were thought of differently in Biblical times. There was no vaccination programs preventing childhood diseases, little medical care generally, and little in the way of contraception. There were lots of children who were often seen as somewhat of a burden and, sadly, quite expendable. Whether children lived or died seemed much more random and unsure. A pandemic could wipe out whole generations of children, so it was best, in some sad ways, not to get too attached to them. Besides, there always seemed to be more children where those came from. The command to "be fruitful and multiply" and fill the earth seems to be the one command from God that people were good at keeping. So we should not be too hard on the disciples for their attempts to keep the children at bay.
Jesus, however, will have no part of it. "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them, for to such belong the kingdom of God." Then he pronounces a promise we all need to ponder, "Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." What exactly does this mean?
Small children live to learn new things and gain new experiences. They listen intently. Their eyes scan everything. If they can, they grab at something new and do their best to roll it in their hands or put it in their mouth to taste and smell whatever it may be, often times much to the consternation of alert parents and grandparents. "Don't put that in your mouth! No, don't touch that! Be careful. Spit that back up." The wonder of the world is open and fresh to new minds. I have seen little children stare at something adults would consider mundane, as they try to grasp what this thing is all about. If only we had the same sense of freshness and wonder to receive the good gifts of God that a young mind has to receive the experiences of life.
Little children also have a strong sense of personal bonding and need for their parents. A newborn's eyes are initially focused only at the distance from their mother's breast to their mother's face. That initial bond between mother and child is immensely powerful. Children often show an amazing capacity for forgiving and forgetting, setting aside and not remembering the mistakes their parents made in parenting them. This grace and resilience is again a quality that is part of the kingdom of God. Only when we get older do we develop the skill of holding grudges and resentments. These have no place in the kingdom of God.
A young child oftentimes simply lives to please a parent or adult. "See the picture I drew, Mommy?" Everyone recognizes the tragedy of a child who does not get to hear "Well done," "That is beautiful," "You really helped me today," or a simple "I am so glad you are my child" from a parent or mentor. Again, this pleases God. He wants nothing more than for his people to live according to what pleases him and has even promised to bless those who are a blessing to others.
A childlike faith is the open hand that receives from God His good gifts, that trusts the Father in all things, that wants to please, and is easily able to move on, forgiving and forgetting the wrongs done to them. Lord, give me such a faith...