28th June 2020
The Third Sunday after Trinity
Matthew 18.1- 10
We were planning to observe Family Fun Day today. Each year on the last Sunday in June we invite any who wish to come into our grounds for an afternoon of children’s games. We especially hope families who live nearby will come. There is a Bouncy Castle, welly wanging when competitors try to throw a wellington boot as far as they can. Children enjoy rolling down the banks of our front lawn. Adults can try the Tombola. There are refreshments. Usually we have about two hundred visitors and our staff and some members of the Community help to entertain them. It’s an opportunity for our neighbours to visit our church as well.
I am sorry that Fun Day isn’t going to happen this year because I think it is important for us to have occasional contact with children of all ages but especially young children. Jesus taught that children exemplify the qualities necessary for membership of the kingdom of heaven. If you want to belong to God’s kingdom you need to be childlike. But not childish!
St Matthew’s Gospel has important teaching about children in the opening verses of Chapter 18.
The disciples had asked Jesus, ‘Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ Jesus called a little child to him, put him in the middle of the disciples and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.’ What Jesus meant is that no one can be accepted by God or claim that he or she obeys God, unless they are childlike.
The disciples asked Jesus, ‘Who is the greatest?’ and he answered, ‘Whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’
What an amazing, astonishing remark! We need to think about it and take it to heart. Picture the scene. Jesus is standing in a street with some disciples. I imagine that Peter and his brother Andrew were there, James and his brother John, and a few others. They are discussing who is the greatest in God’s kingdom. They assume they are all members. It is as though they are selecting the Messiah’s cabinet or his bench of bishops! They ask Jesus whom he would consider suitable.
Before he replies he calls a little boy, playing nearby. He comes to Jesus immediately because like all children he has been taught to obey grown-ups. Jesus tells the boy to stand in the middle of the group. Then he says to his disciples unless you are humble like this child you will not even get into God’s kingdom. This child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus goes on to say, ‘ Do not disdain or harm these little ones. Very great angels, who stand in the presence of God, watch over and protect children.
When Jesus lived in Galilee Jewish culture gave no status to children. They were loved and cherished as God’s gift but they were expected to obey. God’s Law required children to honour and obey their parents, as Jesus himself did in Nazareth. Children received a basic education. Boys learnt their father’s trade. Girls learnt from their mothers how to be good homemakers. They were little people and did not count until they had grown up. Our society regards children rather differently.
What Jesus said has important implications for every Christian community. His teaching reverses what people normally expect. Disciples who are gifted with leadership qualities, who are the big people, are not the greatest in God’s eyes. No! their gifts are for service. They are to serve the little people in God’s community, those who are humble, who have no standing or status, for they are the greatest in God’s eyes.
I remember similar teaching I once heard in an ordination sermon. The preacher said ‘The clergy, from the bishop down to the most recently ordained deacon, are to be skivvies in the Church.’ Jesus told the apostles that they were not the greatest in God’s kingdom so no pastor or cleric, however saintly, should imagine that they are any different. Rather we should look for candidates for the highest places in the kingdom of heaven in our infant schools or among little old people whose goodness shines out of them.
Crispin Harrison CR