People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. (NIV)
Many famous people have “minders” to guard them. They ensure the great one doesn’t get into situations that won’t advance his or her cause. They guard the celebrities’ time and space, so the thronging masses won’t get in the way. Which is very much what the disciples of Jesus were doing when various parents brought young children to Jesus. We can imagine the disciples shooing them off and saying how Jesus was so busy or so tired. And we can perhaps imagine them thinking to themselves that Jesus had bigger fish to fry than just being nice to cute kids. After all, the Saviour of the world can’t waste his time on people who can’t actively support him or at least consciously respond to him.
They were wrong. Jesus did have time for the children. Jesus did have a strategy and didn’t waste his time. But these children were part of his mission, not a distraction from it. Jesus’ love and interest doesn’t just extend to those who can do him favours. He was no hard-headed networker who carefully calculated who to mix with on the basis of who could do him most good. Jesus loves young and old indiscriminately.
And as he blessed them over his disciples’ protest, he used the children as a teaching aid. Not only was God’s invitation to life extended to these very young children, but God’s new life could only be grasped by those with a childlike heart. Some have waxed lyrical at this and suggested that Jesus was referring to the innocence and humility of children. Such people must never have had children! Children are neither innocent or humble all the time. Jesus was not making some generalised sentimental statement about how lovely little children might be. He was referring instead to their utter dependence on others to survive. They knew they needed support and took hold of it. They couldn’t get by on their own.
Jesus is saying none of us can become Christians unless we have that state of heart and mind. We know we need God’s mercy; we are helpless to do anything to earn it. We realise we can’t live life on our own and need help. We become utterly dependent on God’s mercy and power to be the people we are meant to be. This is the essence of childlikeness. This is the prerequisite for our becoming Jesus’ followers. To get help we need to become helpless. To grow as mature adults, we need to become like little dependent children. Becoming like children is a most adult thing to do.