In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells his disciples not to prevent little children from coming to him, and says, “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And since little children are sweet and innocent, we nod and think, “How nice! Yes of course, we must strive to have the qualities of the child!” And we move on.
This is a very strong statement! It is not clear what Jesus means in this saying, but what is clear is that we must strive to understand it and carry it out.
As I thought about it today, I considered what a child has that we adults must try to emulate. As we watch a child at play, we can be struck by his sweetness…until something or someone crosses him, and then he can quickly change to being selfish and nasty. His kindness, likewise, can be variable. Obedience? That’s something that parents need to teach, because children are not naturally obedient; instead, they want to have their own way as much as possible. Of course, we love our children even though we see their faults, and no doubt God feels the same way about us.
Love! Maybe that’s it. A child gives love wholeheartedly. When a child loves someone, his whole being seems to be involved. If the child loves Aunt Rita, when Aunt Rita is due to visit the child cannot wait for her to arrive, runs to meet her, throws his arms around her neck, and wants to stay by her side. He asks Aunt Rita to play with him, read to him, and has a hard time letting Aunt Rita enjoy anyone else in the house.
I’m thinking that this whole-hearted love is what Jesus is referring to. Remember God telling the Israelites that he would take their stony hearts and replace them with natural hearts? (Ezekiel 11:19) God is willing to forgive our sins, again and again, if we turn to him with sincere sorrow. It is not a narrow obedience that God wants most, but the obedience that comes because of love, a love that puts him first, ahead of a new car or an exotic holiday, even ahead of parents or spouse.
Lord, inspire us to turn to you with our whole hearts, giving ourselves over to you completely. You ask much of us, Lord, but you give so much more. We love you, Lord; help us learn to love you more and more.