I was once asked to speak at a conference of Sunday School teachers. The topic given was “Modelling.”
I had assumed – correctly, I think – that the conference organizers had intended me to speak on the role and responsibility of modelling that we, grown-ups (parents, teachers, leaders, etc.), have towards the children under our charge.
We are to be models, role models, for our children. So we think. So I thought.
What an eye-opener I was in for when I looked into the stories of Jesus and little children!
For Jesus – that Eternal Revolutionary – it is not so much that children are in need of learning from us; we are more in need of learning from them.
They are examples for us more than we are for them. We are not their models; they are our models.
For Jesus, children are the models of those who receive and enter the kingdom of God.
Becoming like a child to receive and enter the kingdom of God could mean several things. It could mean the necessity of being born again; for to be born again necessarily implies becoming little children again, in the spiritual sense.
It could mean that entering the kingdom of God is not based on keeping the Law, just like children in Old Testament Judaism were not required or expected to observe the Law.
It could also mean that we are to be utterly dependent on God for all our needs and wants just like our children are utterly dependent on us. It could mean other things too.
Whatever it means, children are, according to Jesus, our models when it comes to receiving and entering the kingdom of God.
This is so, partly, because children are presented in the Gospels as models of those who correctly identify Jesus.
When Jesus once came to Jerusalem, we find that ‘children were shouting in the temple, “Hosanna [meaning, ‘Save, we pray!’] to the Son of David‘” (Matt. 21:15).
On hearing this, the chief priests and the scribes became angry and complained to Jesus.
While the top religious leaders and theologians of Jesus’s day were totally blind to the true identity of Jesus, the little children had no such problem. They identify Jesus as who he is – Saviour (“Hosanna”) and King (“Son of David”).
According to Jesus, children are also the models of greatness. Once the disciples of Jesus were arguing about who among them would be the greatest in the kingdom of God.
Jesus then put a child in their midst and said, “Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18:4).
Jesus’s point here, I think, is not essentially about the reversal of status in the kingdom. He is not, in other words, saying that the humblest are the greatest and the proudest are the least in the kingdom.
Jesus’s point is, rather, this: Greatness is NOT a kingdom category. In the kingdom of God, the question of who is greater or lesser is a non-issue.
Getting into the kingdom and being a member of the kingdom is more than enough.