2000 years ago a Jewish carpenter turned Rabbi told his followers to become like little children. Become like what!? In that era, children were the lowest in society, right along with slaves. They had no rights, no voice, no status. Who would “opt” for that? What was Jesus doing?
When you read the full passage Jesus is being asked by his followers, Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? I can only imagine Jesus rolling his eyes and shaking his head. It took his students a bit to understand what Jesus meant by his version of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus’ students were still thinking in their own cultural terms of the Roman Empire – which many thought Jesus was going to overthrow. He did. But not in a way that anyone saw coming, or would have bet on. John Ortberg notes in his series, Who Is This Man?, “No one would have placed a bet that the movement Jesus started would still be around 2000 years later and the Roman Empire gone.”
By asking the question, Jesus’ disciples were likely prying for insider information to see if they could secure a good position in the new kingdom. Remember these were the same folks who asked if they should call down fire from heaven as well as who will sit at Jesus’ right hand and left hand. Their heads were not in the right place. His response was not what they were expecting.
Jesus placed a little child among them and 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.
Why is this so important? The obvious answer is that Jesus’ Kingdom was not about power-hungry people. He saw the natural folly in this. But Jesus was also introducing a new power into the world – humility. Prior to Jesus, humility was not an asset. It was reserved for the lowly and poor. No one strove to be humble. They strove for power, recognition, praise, glory, and strength – this was the Roman way. Might is right.
Jesus was interested in humility – humble service to God and others. At the 2011 Global Leadership Summit, John Dickson talks about how humility has become true greatness. He notes how it was started with Jesus, and that all great leaders, today, have humility in their arsenal.
Jesus was introducing a radically new way to lead and to live one’s life. And it worked. Humility has come to trump the power and might that was so praised in Rome – no one saw that coming! In Rome you helped your friends and crushed your enemies – that was the Way of Rome. Jesus changed that with humility and a love your enemies way of life.
That he uses children to exemplify this is profound. Children don’t see enemies. They see people. My kids have no prejudices. They’ll learn them soon enough. In the mean time, they’ll play and hang out with anyone – regardless of their beliefs, skin color, economic status…etc. Not only are kids humble, they’re present, engaged, joyful, excitable, easy to forgive, and they love to play, and to love.
Additionally, by using children as an example, Jesus quite literally equalized society in a sentence. If you want to be great, become like a kid. What a lesson we adults need to hear over and over.
Check out the Dickson’s video below – he elaborate on the qualities of humility and leadership.
Thanks for reading,