OF SUCH IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
They brought little children to Jesus that he might touch them. But the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw what they were doing he was vexed and said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and don’t try to stop them for of such is the Kingdom of God. This is the truth I tell you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child will not enter into it.” And he took them up in the crook of his arm and blessed them and laid his hands upon them.
It was natural that Jewish mothers should wish their children to be blessed by a great and distinguished Rabbi. Especially they brought their children to such a person on their first birthday. It was in this way that they brought the children to Jesus on this day.
We will fully understand the almost poignant beauty of this passage only if we remember when it happened. Jesus was on the way to the Cross–and he knew it. Its cruel shadow can never have been far from his mind. It was at such a time that he had time for the children. Even with such a tension in his mind as that he had time to take them in his arms and he had the heart to smile into their faces and maybe to play with them awhile.
The disciples were not boorish and ungracious men. They simply wanted to protect Jesus. They did not quite know what was going on, but they knew quite clearly that tragedy lay ahead and they could see the tension under which Jesus laboured. They did not want him to be bothered. They could not conceive that he could want the children about him at such a time as that. But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.”
Incidentally, this tells us a great deal about Jesus. It tells us that he was the kind of person who cared for children and for whom children cared. He could not have been a stern and gloomy and joyless person. There must have been a kindly sunshine on him. He must have smiled easily and laughed joyously. Somewhere George Macdonald says that he does not believe in a man’s Christianity if the children are never to be found playing around his door. This little, precious incident throws a flood of light on the human kind of person Jesus was.
“Of such,” said Jesus “is the Kingdom of God.” What is it about the child that Jesus liked and valued so much?
(i) There is the child’s humility,. There is the child who is an exhibitionist, but such a child is rare and almost always the product of misguided adult treatment. Ordinarily the child is embarrassed by prominence and publicity. He has not yet learned to think in terms of place and pride and prestige. He has not yet learned to discover the importance of himself.
(ii) There is the child’s obedience. True, a child is often disobedient, but, paradox though it may seem, his natural instinct is to obey. He has not yet learned the pride and the false independence which separate a man from his fellow-men and from God.
(iii) There is the child’s trust. That is seen in two things.
(a) It is seen in the child’s acceptance of authority. There is a time when he thinks his father knows everything and that his father is always right. To our shame, he soon grows out of that. But instinctively the child realizes his own ignorance and his own helplessness and trusts the one who, as he thinks, knows.
(b) It is seen in the child’s confidence in other people. He does not expect any person to be bad. He will make friends with a perfect stranger. A great man once said that the greatest compliment ever paid him was when a little boy came up to him, a complete stranger, and asked him to tie his shoelace. The child has not yet learned to suspect the world. He still believes the best about others. Sometimes that very trust leads him into danger for there are those who are totally unworthy of it and who abuse it, but that trust is a lovely thing.
(iv) The child has a short memory. He has not yet learned to bear grudges and nourish bitterness. Even when he is unjustly treated–and who among us is not sometimes unjust to his children?–he forgets, and forgets so completely that he does not even need to forgive.
Indeed, of such is the Kingdom of God.
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