The Way to be Truly Great (Matthew 18:1-5)

Imagine if a person who was 20 feet tall and 950 pounds came along and picked you up, face-to-face, under the arms, and threw you another 10 feet into the air!  He’d then catch you over his head and swing you under his legs before tossing you back up into space, this time pretending he was going to drop you.

What?  You wouldn’t giggle and laugh all the way through that experience?  You’re so lame!  Even a toddler laughs when having the same experience, so why would you be concerned?

But that’s the point. Children have an amazingly simple faith and trust component with those whom they know to follow. And that train of thinking in counterintuitive to the adult mind. We could summarize it this way: The world’s system is to fight to the top and establish one’s greatness by extraordinary effort. Jesus says the model of greatness is to be like a child in our trust.

In Matthew 18 we come across another of a number of passages where the disciples are at least all thinking, if not outright arguing, about who is going to be greatest in the Kingdom. All of Christ’s talk about his suffering and the opposition that will lead him to the cross does not stick with them and mentally register at all. They’re thinking about greatness, not simply following and serving. Here’s the exchange …

Matthew 18:1 – At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

Whereas children can at times have self-centered concerns and expressions, they really are remarkable – as compared to adults – in terms of their dependent followership. They wake up ready to be fed, and to be led, before they’re put back to bed. Their eyes are on the parent, looking to follow and go where the parent takes them. In this, they are a good model of discipleship.

I distinctly remember one particular day as a pre-school child, shopping with my mom in a Woolworth’s store (you remember them, right?) at the 25th Street Shopping Center in Easton, PA.  I somehow got separated and could not find her. I panicked. A store clerk took me by the hand and went aisle to aisle, asking all the women if they were my mother. Eventually, we found her; and she was so surprised that I went through such a panic. She wasn’t going to leave me behind!  And politely she scolded me that I needed to keep my eye on her more actively.

So too, we need to keep our eyes on Christ, recognizing our dependence upon him. We should walk and travel with him, serving with and for him as opportunity presents. This results ultimately in reward and benefit in the eternal Kingdom. But whatever ranking we have there is not our concern, being faithful in the next steps is what should occupy our thoughts and deeds … like a child. It is rather simple.

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