At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:1-5)
Welcoming the Children, Becoming Like Children
Last weekend our family was in Grand Lake, Colorado to celebrate our son, Zach, marrying the love of his life, Jordan Anderson. There were many moving moments. One of them was having our good friend and Zach and Hannah’s godfather, Roger Cauthon, serve as the officiant for the ceremony. Another was seeing Hannah serve as one of Jordan’s bridesmaids. Still another special part of the ceremony was seeing my niece’s and nephew’s son, Linden, be one of the ring bearers. Linden, you see, is 14 months old. He was being helped by Jake, another ring bearer, who is 6 years old. There were also two flower girls, Kylie and Katie, who are older sisters of Jake. As attractive and joyful as Jordan and Zach were as a couple on their wedding day - and I have never seen them more joyful! - there was something special added to the wedding festivities because these young children were included.
When the disciples asked Jesus who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus put a child among them and told them they must change and become like children if they wanted to enter the kingdom of heaven. Then he added, “Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
Become like children. Welcome children. That’s what Jesus said to do.
As I write this, I have just heard that President Trump has signed an executive order that ends the administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the Mexico-U.S. border. Evidently the public’s outcry moved the President to do something. But why did over 2,000 children get separated from their parents in the first place? I can’t imagine anyone who has children of their own being so callous. I certainly can’t imagine any follower of Jesus believing that this is something that Jesus would do - whether touting security reasons, the desire to discourage border crossings, or for any other reason.
The Jesus I know was always seeing and welcoming the outsider, the poor, the oppressed, the shunned, and yes - the children. The Jesus I know made a point to say that we not only need to welcome children, but to change and become like them. And the Jesus I know said that when we welcome children, we welcome him!
Children are trusting, playful, loving, vulnerable, curious, open to learning and - as Jesus said - humble. These are all traits to be cultivated, if we want to respond to God’s invitation to embrace a whole new way of living, and enter into something called the kingdom of God, where we love God and love others at least as much as we love ourselves.
Whether we are conscious of why we are doing it, there is a reason that we often include little children in wedding ceremonies. We give them a role to remind ourselves that we are called to welcome children - a symbol of welcoming some of the most vulnerable people in our world. We give them a role to remind ourselves that we are to become not super-independent, blowing-our-own-horn adults, but children - children who need God and one another, too.