The Greatest in the Kingdom

Matthew 18: 1-4
Isa 66:10-14c / Psa 131

Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
(Matthew 18:3)

When we say we are not ‘defiled’
That’s when pride rears its ugly head;
Christ said we must be like a child
Who fears the stain of sin instead.

At one time, the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18: 1-4)

Reflection

The message in today’s Gospel is about humility and simplicity as essential requirements to become children of God. It may seem paradoxical that children, who are weak, vulnerable, and insignificant in the power scale should be regarded by Jesus as the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, especially during that time in first century Judea when children were considered as non-entities, and had no rights whatsoever.

Upon reflection, we realize it is precisely because of their weakness and total dependence that children enjoy their parents’ protection and providence. In our humility and submission to God’s authority, He gives us the power to overcome. As St. Paul said, “I have the strength for everything through Him Who empowers me” (Phil.4:13). Like little children, we must also be willing to learn (from the Word of God), and to be molded according to the image of the Father’s Son, Jesus, Who is our model and ideal. While children are still pure and undefiled, adults are already “adulterated” and deformed by worldly influences, and so are harder to teach. That is why Jesus wants us to be renewed by being “born again” in His Spirit.

As they are humble, weak, simple and vulnerable, children also represent the poor and the disadvantaged. Jesus wants us to live simply and be totally dependent on God for all our needs. He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:3). God does not expect us to renounce all our material possessions and live a life of poverty. He merely wants us to be “poor in spirit,” to be humble, instead of flaunting our material possessions or be extravagant in our lifestyle. God does not expect us to give away all our resources to the poor. But He does encourage us to be more generous to them, and never to “despise one of these little ones” when they come to us for help. The book of Proverbs is full of such admonitions: “Refuse no one the good when it is in your power to do it for him. Say not to your neighbor, ‘Go and come again, tomorrow I will give,’ when you can give at once.” (Prov. 3:27-28). “He who oppresses the poor blasphemes his Maker, but he who is kind to the needy glorifies Him” (Prov. 14:31). “He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will himself also call and not be heard” (Prov.21:13). Our Lord Jesus Himself reminds us in the Gospel that “the poor will always be with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them” (Mark 14:7).

Father God, our Savior Jesus has shown us that it is the weak and the helpless who are greatest in Your eyes because You always favor the humble and the little ones. Forgive us for feeling proud in our strength and self-sufficiency, for in all things we will always be dependent on Your power and provisions. Amen.

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