Luke 9:46-48 (NIV) An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all–he is the greatest.”
Jesus’ time was short, and the disciples still had not caught the vision of who He really was and what He had really come to do. Their minds were still focused on the hope that Jesus, as the Messiah, was going to establish the kingdom of Israel as soon as they got to Jerusalem, oust the Romans, depose the Herods and, buoyed by a rising tide of popularity, set Himself up as king on the throne of David.
Of course, as Jesus’ elite lieutenants, the hand-picked twelve out of the multitudes that regularly followed Jesus, the most natural turn of events would be for all of them to take the top spots in the new administration. The only question was what the internal pecking order would be. Hence the discussion of who would be the greatest, Jesus’ second in command, and who would have to take the other, lower spots. Each of them could muster a convincing argument as to why they should be at the top of the heap.
But when Jesus heard this discussion, He knew that He had to stop this line of thinking cold, and redirect the discussion immediately. So he brought a little child to His side, and used that child as an exemplar of the greatest in God’s kingdom.
In Matthew’s fuller telling of the event, Jesus tells the disciples, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3-4 NIV) He was telling them that their whole focus was wrong. Little children in the home of loving parents don’t strive to put themselves first or to convince their parents that they should love them the most. A small child, secure in the love of his or her parents, merely exists in that love, obeys what is commanded, receives what is graciously given, learns what is taught, and is satisfied.
Likewise, those in the kingdom should be as humble and unassuming as that child, not pushing themselves forward or striving to be counted as the first and best. Instead, secure in the love of God, they should merely exist in that love, obeying what is commanded, receiving what is generously given, learning what is taught, and being satisfied that they are deemed worthy to be God’s people. The one who ceases striving for power and position is the greatest in the kingdom of God, and will receive both power and position in return.
Father, this is completely counterintuitive to the natural human spirit that wants to be recognized and advance up the ranks, and can’t see how that can happen without actively pursuing it. But the rules of Your kingdom are NOT the rules of the world. Help me to rest, to exist like a child in Your love, to obey instead of pushing, to receive rather than pursuing, and to be thankful that I am loved and accepted as one of Your own. Amen.