“Amen I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”
Let’s face it, Jesus says some strange things at times – doesn’t he?? I’m sure more than a few of his followers were puzzled by this particular statement.
First of all — did any of them really know what he meant by the “kingdom of God??”
And then certainly the part about a child entering the kingdom would have been a bit challenging for them. . .
Aren’t the ones who always do the right thing – those who are pleasing to God — worthy of God’s kingdom?
Aren’t those who know the Jewish law inside and out – or canon law in our days – the ones who should find favor with God?
How about those who pray the most or sacrifice the most in their day in and day out lives – should not they be at the top of God’s list??
How can a child somehow be more faithful or more connected to God or living a holier life than men and women who know more and do more and pray more???
What exactly was Jesus trying to say??
As you probably know – Jesus talked about the “kingdom” a lot. Sometimes he said the kingdom of God and sometimes it was the kingdom of heaven – whatever the kingdom was –it clearly was pretty important to Jesus – and clearly needs to be important to his followers so they can understand what it is all about so they can get there successfully.
And there is NOT really one simple, short answer – as to what the kingdom really means. It doesn’t have such a narrow meaning that it can be tied down so easily. . .
In one sense – we, the Christian community two thousand years later – have sort of tilted the focus of the kingdom — toward the afterlife –
that after our earthly lives have ended, we hope to live forever with God in the eternal kingdom of heaven.
And why this is certainly NOT WRONG – Jesus seems to use the word kingdom to describe something NOT in the future – but in the present. A reality that can be embraced and entered into and made present in every time and place.
In other words, God’s kingdom is NOT something we have to wait for. It is right here in our midst – should we choose to step into it, and begin living in it – by thinking a certain way, and seeing a certain way, and acting a certain way.
And so Jesus seems to be telling his followers that there is this wonderful thing called the KINGDOM that he wants us to embrace and share in – a kingdom which can only be experienced when our hearts become like that of a little child.
So what do young children have that adults often lack?
Children have an ability to TRUST. Do we trust God? Do we trust in the inherent goodness of others. Or is our first tendency to distrust – and only change our minds after it is proven otherwise??
Children have an ability to be HOPEFUL. Do we do the same? Do we truly believe that tomorrow can be better than today — that the world can be better – that we can be better?? Or do we remain cynical and negative?
Children have an ability to LIVE IN THE PRESENT – disinterested in the past and hardly ever worrying about the future. . . Whatever kid happens to be standing in front of them –is their new best friend, and has all of their attention. Do we go through life clinging to grudges and past hurts? Do we continually play our regrets over and over and over in our minds? Do we plan our lives to the smallest detail and are crushed when things don’t go our way? Do we spend our time absolutely dreading the future? >>
Or do we just try to make today the best day it can be – a day in which we are kind and thoughtful and generous in whatever situations come our way?
Children are often completely AMAZED AT THE WORLD AROUND THEM—filled with a deep sense of wonder and curious about just about everything. Do we no longer find beauty and wonder in our world? Do we fail to see the hand of God in people and situations? Do we fail to find anything special in the day-to-day “ordinariness” of life? Do we consider our world a “good” place or a “bad” place – something worth treasuring or simply something to criticize and look down on?
Children are completely DEPENDENT ON OTHERS for nearly everything.
Do we try to go it alone? Are we convinced that we are in charge, that we are calling the shots, and that we can’t count on anyone, including God, to help us out? Do we see needing others as a weakness?
Children have FEW BOUNDARIES.
Do we keep people at a distance? Do we put up walls rather than tear them down? Or as Pope Francis would say – do we build walls or bridges – between ourselves and others? Are we reconcilers or dividers: stepping stones or millstones? Do we build up the body of Christ or tear it down?
This isn’t an exhaustive list, of course. But it does show that many of the very best things about children often get discarded as we move into adulthood. And some of these qualities and attributes are precisely the things that help us to begin living in God’s kingdom right now – this very day – a kingdom of incredible goodness and generosity, and love – a kingdom which reflects deep truths about what God created the world to be and knows it can be.
It just takes the heart of a child. May each of us strive to reclaim the very best in ourselves that might have gotten lost along the way. Whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it. . .