But Jesus said, “Leave the children alone, and don’t stop them from coming to me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such people.” Matthew 19:14 (translation R. France, NICNT)
Such People – R. T. France has an excellent commentary on Matthew. In a footnote to this verse, he points out that there is no noun after the Greek word for “such”. The object of Jesus’ comment is implied, not stated. But clearly Jesus is not saying that only children will enter into the Kingdom. What Jesus is conveying has to do with status, not with age. If we want to know who will enjoy the presence of the Father, then we better take a closer look at the qualifications Jesus proclaims.
Little children. That’s the example Jesus uses. Now, what is it about little children that sets them apart from the rest of us. Well, for one thing, they are vulnerable. They are not in control of life – and they know it. If they are going to survive, they must depend on someone else. The fact that we are amazed at news stories about children who exhibit survival characteristics in the face of great threat only emphasizes how much we assume that children cannot care for themselves. Most children, left alone, die. That’s the harsh reality of this world. Just look at what’s happening in Somalia, Darfur or Haiti.
Do you think Jesus’ didn’t know about these kinds of conditions? He lived in a brutal era too. Children are always the first to suffer. So, when Jesus speaks about the qualifications of the Kingdom, he must have in mind the dependency, vulnerability and risk of being a child. God cares for those who are in desperate need. Jesus reiterated the thought in the Beatitudes. “Fortunate the poor in spirit.”
What else do we find in children? Perhaps we should pay attention to their relative unimportance. Of course, in a culture affected by social evolution, we have been seduced into believing that the child is the next great savior of mankind. But history shows us something else. Children don’t matter. They are the first on the expendable block. They represent the fragile future in a world that is consumed with the breakable now. We might not send them to the gas chambers, but we certainly have no problem saddling them with lives of poverty. Who else will pay for our addictive indulgence?
Finally, children have no voice. They are the epitome of those who are ignored, dismissed and forgotten. After all, they can’t even vote! Who really cares what they would like to say? No, it’s more important that adults take charge. We know! We do our very best to uneducate God’s gifts by forcing them to fit the intellectually, morally and spiritually bankrupt society we so generously bequeath them. They can’t refuse.
Vulnerable, dependent, unimportant, taken advantage of . . . If these are the qualifications Jesus has in mind, we might find ourselves outside the door of the banquet hall. Maybe we need to ask how old we are before God and forget about the calendar.
Topical Index: kingdom of heaven, children, belong, Matthew 19:14, R. T. France