v. 37 – Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.
This piece of scripture is very familiar to me but I don’t remember ever really examining it in its context before. This time around there was new light shed on Jesus’ words.
What prompted this statement from Jesus was an argument among his disciples. They must have known that it was a silly argument because when Jesus inquired about it they ‘kept quiet’…ashamed to tell him what they were wasting their time on. I would have been pretty ashamed myself. The truth is – we’ve all gotten into the debate the disciples were engaged in – the debate over who is better. Maybe we don’t outwardly promote ourselves as being superior to others but our minds certainly go there from time to time. We so often measure ourselves up against one another and remind ourselves of all the ways we come out on top. It’s that nasty pride creature that rears its head and tries to convince us that being better is what’s important and that the goal of being the best is what should drive our decisions and our actions. All lies of course.
Jesus took this issue seriously. He didn’t dismiss it as childish banter. Instead he stopped, sat down, and called the disciples to him. He had something important to say. Jesus began by totally reconceptualizing the way the disciples were thinking of ‘greatness’. It wasn’t about who had performed more miracles or who was the most articulate speaker. Instead Jesus said this – “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
In this statement I believe that Jesus was shifting the focus of the disciples lofty endeavors from how they could favorably position themselves to how they could place others in a more favorable position. If we remove the competition to be first and decide that we are content with last we are free to serve without selfish ulterior motives. We no longer need to make decisions based on what would be best for us…instead we are considering what would be best for others.
This in and of itself is a gigantic nugget of wisdom from the great Rabbi but he takes it one step further to ensure the disciples understanding. As he often does in his teachings, Jesus includes a practical example to make his lesson more meaningful. This time he uses the example of children.
In verse 37 he applauds those who tend to children. In fact he doesn’t just applaud them he equates their task of serving children to serving God. Of course! It makes perfect sense! When I have looked at this verse in isolation before I have thought it was a nice statement about the importance of children. As a children’s ministry director I have frequently quoted it in my appreciation to volunteers. But upon closer examination it is much more than a call for serving children. Jesus is telling his disciples that in acknowledging and caring for children we are demonstrating the greatest act of ‘greatness’. Children have many needs and little to give in return. Sure…we all experience a child’s laugh or smile or hug as a gift but outside of that they don’t offer us much in our quest for greatness. They can’t help us get that promotion we’ve been seeking or get us in with the ‘right crowd’ or put in a good word with someone influential. For this reason our service to them is pure and simply that – service. It is not service intended for selfish gain it is service for the purpose of service. It’s service without the pride. It’s service to God himself because it is untainted by selfish ambition. The ways that we help other adults in our world always risk an underlying motive…to look like a good person, to get a leg up, to rack up some return favors down the road. With children the service is purely to serve with no promise of return to us.
At this time in my life this message is particularly inspiring. As I examine my role as a working mother and struggle with the balance of serving those outside of my home and serving those inside of my home I am reminded of the importance of my ‘homework’…not just to my children and their future but also to me as I allow Christ to mold me more and more into his image. I believe parenthood must surely be one of the most rigorous parts of the training. I don’t want to miss out on that. My daughter’s development is important to me and so is my own spiritual refinement…both of these can be achieved in the time I spend dedicated to her. This gives my life an exciting new purpose. It motivates me to discover the gift of being last.