Summary: The keys to gaining God's Kingdom? First come to it in trust and dependence like a little child. Second realise that we can't earn it in God's sight. Third be willing to give up everything in order to gain it. Finally be willing to put yourself last
I was at a local clergy gathering last week and the subject of children's ministry came up. One of the other ministers there commented that they'd had people complain that the children made too much noise. I'm afraid I had to admit that I too had heard the same complaint at St Theo's a number of years ago.
Of course it's true, isn't it? Children these days are much too noisy! And undisciplined! And disrespectful of their elders! It wasn't like that in my day! When I was a child we were perfectly behaved, as you can imagine!
I mean, everyone knows that children should be seen and not heard? Don't they?
Well, as George pointed out earlier, Jesus has something to say about that in today's reading. The disciples clearly thought that children should be ignored. They were a bit like Lucy in this Peanuts cartoon strip.
Poor old Linus! As far as Lucy's concerned he's a non-person. And that's the sort of attitude that the disciples had. These children were just a distraction. Jesus had more important things to do than talk to them.
But they actually had it all wrong didn't they? What Jesus goes on to explain in both this interaction and the next is that in God's kingdom our earthly values are all the wrong way around.
In our world the people who get on are those with the best qualifications, the best thinkers, the decision makers, the wielders of power. That's why we put so much pressure on our VCE students - to make sure that they get into the best courses at uni so they'll end up in a position to exercise influence in the world or to earn a sufficient income to give them enough buying power to do whatever they want to.
But Jesus stops his disciples in their tracks with these words: “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”
Children may be insignificant yet the kingdom belongs to them.
What is it about children that makes them the prime recipients of the kingdom? Is it their total dependence on their parents? A child is the exact opposite of the sort of person I've just described. No power. No qualifications. No influence (apart from their cuteness!). No ability to make important decisions. All they can do is to trust their parents to look after them; to make good decisions on their behalf. In fact if you think about it, total trust is the centre of a child's existence.
But might it also be the fact that a child can't do anything to earn their parents' love? All they can do is receive it as a gift.
The Kingdom of God can't be bought; it can't be earned; it certainly can't be won by exercise of power. All we can do is to receive it as a gift, unearned, undeserved.
Do you remember a couple of weeks ago we read about the man whose son was mute? And Jesus told him everything is possible do those who believe? Do you remember the man's response? “I do believe; help my unbelief.” There was a man who knew his limitations. He knew how sick his son was; how impossible it was for him to be healed; yet he was prepared to trust Jesus to do what seemed impossible.
So the first key to gaining the kingdom is to approach it like a little child - with total trust in God, with total dependence on Jesus for salvation; and with the realisation that we can do nothing to earn it.
In fact Jesus makes it even stronger, doesn't he? He says “15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” I occasionally meet someone who tells me how they've studied theology and it hasn't made any difference to them. They know all the Bible stories; they've read the Old Testament and the New Testament, the letters of Paul but they're still not sure if it's all true. They certainly haven't become followers of Christ. And I wonder why? How can someone study the Bible for years and not be convinced by it? Is what Jesus is saying here the key? Is it that they've come to the gospel, not like a little child with a sense of dependence and trust, but with a sense of their own intelligence and wisdom? Have they set out to put God to the test? Have they decided that their own judgement is the deciding factor? That's not how a little child thinks is it?
But then a man comes up to Jesus who's something of a contrast to a little child. Luke tells us that he's a ruler, presumably a ruler of the synagogue. So he's a man of power and influence, as well as being very wealthy.