The Greatest in the Kingdom
“At that 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. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me. Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.’” (Matthew 18:1-6)
In looking back over my life, and observing others today, I can see that this teaching of Jesus hits home. As you leave off being a biological child, you want to grow up so fast, you want to be part of that larger world you never knew you were missing out on, when you were a true child. In jettisoning the small-mindedness of youth, we tend to throw off our innocence as well. And so the stage is set for our adult spiritual battleground.
As an adult we have to fall back in love with innocence, we have to choose it over vice and corruption. Many are tempted to use their age and experience against the young, by exploiting or misleading them, like the big brothers and sisters, and upper classmen, and teachers who want to be cool more than they want to be true moral guides. Everyone at the age of reason is a role-model because they are influencing younger ones in their families or at school already.
But how do we fall back in love with the innocence of youth? Many of us have to fall far away from such innocence and learn the hard way- by consequences that come naturally from our sins. But there is also a positive system build into our natural lives. Having children reintroduces us to our long forgotten childhood. To watch the process of human development from the womb into diapers and first days of school- that is an extraordinary experience and opportunity for spiritual conversion. To see the hearts of children- how they break so easily, and mend so quickly. To gaze into their ever-changing angel faces, the silly humor, the maddening highs and lows, the ever-present need to offer moral coaching and scolding- it is a full-time spiritual work.
It seems to me that the lessons from Jesus’ teaching above is to reawaken that little child that lies dormant within you- in your heart- you have to reject all the pleasures that developed inside you for things cruel or ungodly. You have to choose hope over hopelessness, you have to choose to believe in God, a God that is Love and Truth, Mercy and Justice; the despair of atheism, of stict materialism, is something that children don’t naturally comprehend. It doesn’t make sense for death to be the end of ourselves, our loved ones, of love itself. As an adult, belief in God and Heaven/Hell, isn’t about vague wishful thinking, it is about responding to our deepest yearnings, our profound sense that we weren’t created just for this short run on planet earth. There must be more, and there is. The Jesus Revelation is the Great News- which is why is can’t just be held within our tiny hearts- it has to be shouted out from the Rooftops!
Many adults will have to undergo some severe trial to be put right. I have never felt more alive in my faith than when I heard I might have skin cancer. Being alive in my faith isn’t necessarily a peaceful, easy feeling- for me it was a wake-up call to go even deeper in my trust in God. The biggest fear I have now is not for myself, but leaving my children with a void that I seem to believe only I can fill. The thought that I might die soon put pictures in my mind of my children not having their papa around to hug and kiss away some of their pain in this life. That maybe they would grow up despairing of God the Father if their earthly father was taken away from them early in life. Ugh. I need to get deeper, deeper in my faith, deeper in my trust in God. The work of the spirit is never complete, and you can’t stop digging. When I stopped digging in the past, stopped my active prayer and worship, my faith shriveled up and nearly died, my morality took a nose-dive. But thank God, I am back, I am well, I am a pilgrim progressing in this life. I am not overconfident, I am falling back into more child-like humility when it comes to the big stuff we are all facing- the fragile mortality of my life, and more importantly, the lives of my beloved ones.
Those fragile little children are not in perpetual fear- not at all. My 1 year old son is walking around like he owns the world, yet if we just let him go his way for even a few minutes, he is finding his way into a situation where he could bring pain even death to himself in short order. The trick is to have the confidence of a child- but not confidence in myself- I know that the universe I create apart from God is a very lame and temporary one. But having the child’s faith put into an adult’ mind, giving it all over to God for his blessing. As a parent I understand the need to be issuing instructions and commands for the common good at home with children running amok. Well, we are all little children compared to God, and the fact that He is revealed to us as Father, says so much. I long to be an obedient son, a good father and husband- in short- all I want in the end is to be a good man in the eyes of God, in the eyes of my family and friends, I know that being a strong Christian/Catholic does not always lend one to being popular with the many- but if I can work on delivering what I believe to be true with a true spirit of love in my heart for all- then maybe I can grow in holiness without turning away anyone of goodwill.
Today I received good news that my skin is free and clear for the moment of any cancer- and I watched the film “The Velveteen Rabbit” with my kids and cried tears of thanksgiving, gratitude for having the gift of more time to become more real by loving more truly, more passionately. Every minute of every day is a second chance, a chance to improve, a chance to prove to yourself and to God that you are trying- I am finding that you can always try harder- the rest is going to be up to God. And that is more than OK! May God bless, heal, and inspire His people.