Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it. (Mark 10:15)
The painting in the front of our sanctuary depicts this story of Jesus welcoming the little children. We see Jesus sitting with a child on his lap, reaching out to bless the young girl handing him a small bouquet of flowers. We even see onlookers in the background with disapproving looks on their faces. It’s a feel-good moment if ever we saw one.
As you probably know, children were not the center of attention in the ancient world like they are today. Yes, parents loved their children and would do anything for them, but in a world with a strict social order, children were on a very low rung of the social ladder. An important teacher like Jesus would not be expected to “waste” his time on mere children. His focus ought to be on the grownups. And maybe it was.
As with most social norms and customs of his day, Jesus rebelled against this notion. The man who ate with tax collectors and sinners and touched lepers and healed on the sabbath was not about to ignore the children who were just as welcome in the kingdom of God he came to proclaim. So it is a feel-good moment of Jesus championing the underdog.
What we often miss as we ooh and aah over the little ones is the way Jesus took it a step further. He didn’t just welcome the children. He didn’t even simply bless the children. He also taught the grownups a lesson, saying, “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
This is not just about welcoming the children. This is a teaching about how we need to transform our own lives in order to discover God’s kingdom. Perhaps we need to adopt the innocence and openness of children. Perhaps we need to stop striving to climb the social ladder or stop judging people by their supposed ‘standing.’ Perhaps it is only when we make ourselves vulnerable, as children, that we will discover what the kingdom of God is all about.
Yes, it is a touching moment when Jesus welcomes the children. But it is also more than that. It is a clue as to how we all can be God’s beloved children living in the kingdom of God.