At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
Considering the last scene about the temple tax, Matthew’s thinking becomes clearer as to why he included that particular anecdote, for Jesus and the disciples now move squarely into the subject of self and selfless. It would seem that to be the greatest in the Kingdom, we should consider leaving high offices, fancy costumes and worldly displays of our greatness behind.
I’m guessing that the disciples might have been hoping to hear Jesus mention their names when they asked this question, but the answer they received to their question was quite different; they needed to become like little children.
For a little bit of perspective, let’s remind ourselves that this scene took place long before children had “rights”, long before any parent was likely to let a child run the show, long before people were concerned about a child’s “self esteem”, when children did what they were told, kept quiet in the presence of adults, and worked hard around the house or the farm.
Don’t leave unpleasant comments on this score; I’m only reporting how it was in those days…
A child had no office, position, rights or say in anything, and according to Jesus, we must be like that to enter the Kingdom of heaven. With that in mind, a child is also innocent, and capable of great faith with few of the questions and struggles that adults often have to deal with today. When you put it all together, the greatest in the Kingdom is the one who will put self aside to serve God’s purpose in faith, by serving the needs of others.
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