Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Like a Little Child
Well, maybe that isn’t right, though that is the typical Sunday School lesson or sermon on this text. Let’s look with open eyes and see what Mark is really teaching.
The first problem with the standard interpretation is that children are not innocent, humble, and trusting. Anyone with young children (or grandchildren) knows this. Because of corrupting sin, children don’t need to be taught to be selfish and grasping or boastful and domineering. These sinful things come naturally, and show up at an incredibly early age.
Phrases like, “It’s mine!” “I saw it first!” “I will do it myself!” and “I want it now!” are more characteristic of children than the more romantic ideals of humility and trust. And, all our sophistication and worldly wisdom don’t eliminate these sinful attitudes from us as we grow up.
So, receiving the kingdom of God like a little child must mean something other than becoming sweet, humble, and trusting.
An even bigger problem with the typical understanding of Jesus’ words is that it would become a gospel of salvation by works. If children really were naturally humble, innocent, and quick to believe, and we were admonished to become like them, our salvation would depend on us cultivating certain traits of righteousness.
Our learning of proper attitudes and eliminating their opposites would be prerequisites, and the basis, of our entry into the kingdom. It is hard to find any page in the Bible that does not specifically deny that our entrance into God’s kingdom depends on our moral improvement of ourselves. Jesus must have had something else in mind.
What, then, did Mark teach us when he said we must receive the kingdom like a little child? The context of the statement in Mark is the disciples’ grasping for power positions in the coming kingdom. They argue about who is the greatest (9:34). They tell others to stop their ministry because of not being part of the “in” group (9:38). They send away those who are bothering Jesus with insignificant children (10:13). They are preparing themselves to be big shots in the kingdom.
Along with telling his followers to become last and least, serving others (9:35), Jesus adds that welcoming a little child is welcoming him (9:37). A child is not a powerful person, nor can he or she grant power to others. A child is worthless when it comes to worldly status and clout. A helpless, weak, nobody of a child has nothing to trade for the kingdom or its benefits. We know a child can whine and cry, and today’s adults may be too ready to give in to a child’s demands. But in reality, all the child can do is hold out empty hands to receive an undeserved gift.
Unless we receive the kingdom of God like a little child, we will never enter it.
Let’s read with our eyes open.