4 November 2016

Matthew 18:1-14

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (v. 3)

Psalm: Psalm 40:1-10


Yesterday we reflected on the metaphor of faith the size of a mustard seed being able to move a mountain. It was one of the many times in the Gospels when we are reminded of the greatness of the small. It is those things which human beings see as small, weak, even worthless, that are of the greatest value in the kingdom of God.

Today we are again drawn to consider the greatness of the small. Jesus' disciples, some of whom had earlier that day seen Jesus transfigured and flanked by Moses and Elijah, ask Jesus who it is that is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (verse 1). In contrast to the questions that the teachers of the law ask Jesus, this feels a more genuine question, less designed to trap Jesus into saying something that will expose him to arrest. It is also not a self-seeking question, such as when James and John jockey for position in the kingdom of heaven: Who is the greatest? (Mark 10:35-45). It may well be that the disciples are trying to find out Jesus' identity and even his rank alongside that of Moses and Elijah - the only one greater than the great lawgiver and the great prophet, will be the Messiah.

Jesus turns the question on its head. He leads them away from a pointless cul-de-sac of a discussion about power and majesty, to a beautifully simple and poignant statement about the true nature of God's realm.

"Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (v. 4). Although children were loved and cherished at the time of Jesus, they had no legal status or personal power. Children also have no guile; they respond to love with love; they are not interested in the power play of rulers and politicians. Those who are able to be pure of heart and intention, to be able to believe with a simplicity and are able to understand the greatness of the small are at the heart of God's kingdom of love.

To Ponder

  • Who are the 'little ones' in our world today who represent the heart of God's kingdom?
  • What are the stumbling blocks that might be put in the way of the little ones?
  • What would the church look like if children were put into the centre of decision-making and recognised as 'the greatest'?

Bible notes author

The Revd Micky Youngson

The Revd Michaela Youngson is Chair of the London District of the Methodist Church. She has served as a presbyter in circuits in Lancashire and London, as well as having been Secretary of Pastoral Care and Spirituality in the Connexional Team.