Most of us, when we were children, probably had hopes and dreams of what we wanted to become when we grew up. I wanted to be a CPA (and also a computer aided drafter, but without the computers … I still do). That’s right, a Certified Public Accountant. I don’t think I even knew what that meant, but I wanted to become one nonetheless. At some point though I began to grow up and I didn’t want to be a CPA any more. I wanted to be a doctor. Mostly, I wanted to be a doctor because doctors were somebodies. Since I didn’t even know what a CPA was, much less what they did, I didn’t have the same certainty as to whether or not CPAs were somebodies. (I have since learned that some CPAs are somebodies and others, well, not so much.)
It’s funny how when we’re children we’re not too concerned about status. I know we wanted to have the same clothes that the “cool” kids wore, but that had more to do with not getting picked on or beat up than it did with status. However, at some point we began to care about status, about becoming somebodies. Once, Jesus’ disciples were arguing with one another about who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. James and John even won’t s far as to have their mom go to bat for them and ask that they receive the honored seats at the right and left of Jesus. Jesus answered their question – really, our question, too – by placing a little child in front of them and saying, “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.”
There we have it. All we have to do is become children again and then we will be in a position to enter into the kingdom. Perhaps that is easier said than done.
This passage has led many to speculate as to the child-esque qualities Jesus admires most: innocence (though I have 6 children and I must say even the littlest isn’t always all that innocent); trust; imagination; playfulness. We kind of like the Hallmark sentimentality of children. However, the problem with this is that the cost of following Jesus is anything but sentimental. Following Jesus is hard and costly.
Perhaps Jesus admired (for the sake of entering the kingdom) their vulnerability, susceptibility, utter dependence on others, their lack of pretentious knowledge, their inability to survive on their own.
Consider the lesson at hand (Mark 10:13-31), which, in most Bibles, goes by the heading “The Rich Young Ruler.” (As a side, there is nothing in the story that indicates the man is a ruler. Unless you consider that the guy can run and fall straight to his knees as a sign of youth then there is nothing to indicate that he is young either.) It’s easy to miss the connection between this story and the one before. After all, this story is about a grown up and we’re accustomed to setting children aside.
The man asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” What must I do? Granted, it is possible to read too much into this one question, but the very question stands in stark contrast to the image of the child who just assumes he is where he needs to be because he can do nothing else but be. There is very little in this world that a child can do on his or her own.
The point is made even more clear as the conversation continues. Jesus says, “You know the commands,” and then lists several of them (the ones that have to do with loving others, but not the ones that have to do with loving God). The man is so excited and says, “I have kept all of these since I was a child.” Implication – I am no longer a child and I have arrived, I am a somebody and I have the stuff to prove it.
“One thing you lack,” Jesus said, “go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But at these words the man simply lowered his face and turned away, for he was one who had much property.
He just couldn’t do it. He couldn’t become a child again. He couldn’t give up all his stuff, all the things that made him a somebody. The disciples are shocked (which is another blog post altogether) and they remind Jesus that they have in fact given up their possessions. The disciples exhibit (and will continue to) the less desirable qualities of children: they are vulnerable because they have left everything to follow Jesus; they are susceptible to the evil forces of this world; they are utterly dependent upon Jesus; they clearly are not know-it-alls; they have no chance apart from Jesus (John 15:5).
Jesus reassures his “children” (v. 24), as any good parent would do, that though they have forsaken everything, they will not be without in this life or the life to come (vv. 29-31). And this reassurance, for a child, is enough.
O Lord, let your reassurance be enough for us as well, your children. May we let go of status and our dreams of being somebodies to embrace the likeness of a child that we may enter into the kingdom of God. Let us not turn away like the rich man, but turn toward you like a child toward his father. Amen.