I’m going to take you on a short walk down memory lane. Some of you may have heard of a singer/songwriter from the 1970s by the name of Ray Stevens. He was famous for writing and recording comedy songs such as “Bridget the Midget”, “Ahab the Arab”, “The Streak” and many others. He did record a few serious songs, the most famous of which was “Everything is Beautiful”. That particular song starts with a group of children singing words that tie in nicely with the topic of my homily today. The verse goes something like this:
Jesus loves the little children
All little children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world.
In Mark 10:13-16, the disciples try to prevent the children from coming to Jesus to receive his blessing. In his stern rebuke, Jesus reminds the disciples that the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Does this mean that the kingdom belongs to children, or does it mean that the Kingdom belongs to those who are LIKE children? I believe it’s the latter.
So what does it mean to receive the Kingdom like a little child? There is an apparent contradiction that can best be handled by those who are like children. God is all-powerful, perfect and hates sin, but at the same time He is good, free and full of grace, and He loves us. Adults often have a hard time accepting this. They try to make Him politically correct, middle class, sensible and safe—but we all know that Jesus is none of these. Those who approach Jesus like a child accept him for who He is, not for who they want Him to be. When Jesus says, “Come to me and receive…”, children come running, wanting more. Adults, on the other hand, say, “What’s the catch?” Those in spiritual poverty are the ones who have figured out that they are the ones who will be given the Kingdom of heaven.
So how do we become like children? We become like children through the sacraments of baptism and Communion. The water of baptism washes away the old life that is full of doubt, evil, etc. and cleanses us. Christ’s “blood” gives us a regular spiritual cleansing that we need and get through the Eucharist. Baptism and the Eucharist represent a new beginning and a new life. Life starts with childhood-spiritually and physically. Both physical and spiritual children are naïve, full of wonder and trust. What can be more moving than a small child holding out their hands to you in complete trust that you can pick them up? What can be more humbling than the way they ask you for something with a simple belief you can do it, or provide it, just like Jesus can?
In 1 Corinthians 13:11-13, Paul makes it clear that as we grow and mature, we put away childish things. We don’t stop being childlike in the sense Jesus talks about—trusting, humble, willing to follow His commands. We stop throwing tantrums when we don’t get our own way. We stop trying to “be the boss” in every situation, recognizing that our knowledge is partial and that only God deserves to be in control.
The children were brought to Jesus by their parents because they were helpless. They couldn’t do it on their own. Spiritual children are the same way. We need people to bring us to Jesus by being a Christ-like friend, by sharing what it means to follow Jesus and by carrying thanks to Jesus in prayer. We are challenged to bring people to Jesus so they can become spiritual children.
There is a story of a little girl whose mother had given birth to a baby boy. The little girl asked her parents to leave her alone with the new baby. They worried that she might want to hit or shake him, so they said no. Over time though, since she wasn’t showing signs of jealousy, they changed their minds and decided to let her have her private conference with the baby. The little girl went into the baby’s room and shut the door, but it opened a crack-enough to let the curious parents watch and listen. They saw the little girl walk quietly up to the baby, put her face close to his, and say, “Baby, tell me what God feels like. I’m starting to forget.”
We must be like children in our service to God. We must trust and obey Him without fail. We must live as children of God SHOULD live. In Jesus’ time, children were seen as nothings until they were old enough to be useful. Jesus appreciated and valued them for who they were and what they brought as children:
- A simple, unquestioning faith
- A trusting view of life
- Disregard for wealth and status
- Taking pleasure in the smallest things
What is our outlook as Kingdom people on life, possessions, people, those who might be neglected? It should be like a child’s.
Children are honest and straightforward. They say what’s on their mind without thinking or worrying about what anyone will think or say. They are an example of how we must be before God if we want to receive his blessings. In other words, we must have a childlike heart with simplicity, the ability to learn, trust, forgiveness, responsiveness and humility.
Membership in the Kingdom is about grace. That’s why Jesus says in Mark 10:15, “Truly I say to you, whosoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it”. Baptism allows us to be like children. It washes away the dirt of our lives and replaces it with the childlike qualities of simplicity, the ability to learn, trust, forgiveness, responsiveness and humility. It enables us to be reborn—to start over. Every child born into this world is born helpless. Every child born into this world is dependent on others for food, clothing, protection and education. Every Christian is born helpless. Just as children depend on others to survive, so Christians need Christ to survive. Helpless dependence is what the Kingdom of God is all about.
Children are good judges of character. They can sense a reason to fear or a reason to be at peace. They are drawn to people with pure hearts. The children in Mark 10:13-16 could sense that Jesus was pure in heart. Jesus hugged them and loved them. His love was passionate, open and emotive. Jesus was child-friendly, and his church should be too. In a day when children can be physically, sexually and emotionally abused, abandoned, ignored, and forgotten, we must remember the one we call “Lord” loves all the children in the world. If Jesus loves the children we, who are his followers, should also love the children.
It is abundantly clear that Jesus’ attitude was welcoming, open, receptive, concerned for them, very much positive towards them. When they are excluded, he includes them. When they are rejected, he accepts them. When they are made to feel unwelcome, He opens his arms to them. We can enter the kingdom of God easily when we are like children. We can do it through:
1. Unwavering faith like a little child.
2. Knowing that Jesus’ priority is our souls.
3. Dealing with sins in a positive manner.
We become part of God’s family through baptism and the spiritual cleansing it gives us. Through the spiritual cleansing, we gain a new, child-like nature that allows us to be hopelessly dependent on Christ for salvation—the hopeless dependence children have. We must receive the Kingdom in weakness and powerlessness. We need to believe simply because our heavenly Father tells us, just like children do something when their parents tell them.
Children find the kingdom of God quite easily and enter it quite easily. The kingdom of God is so vast that the only way we can understand it is to be like children—naïve, trusting in God, and full of wonder. We receive the Kingdom of God when we ask for it to come. When it comes, we will enter it, if we are like a little child. It is easy for children to have faith because their minds are not cluttered and they believe what they are told. We too must believe what we are told about the Kingdom. Believing is the foundation of faith. Baptism allows us to believe with an uncluttered mind because the spiritual cleansing we receive through baptism cleans out the clutter from our minds. Faith needs to be based on a strong foundational understanding of the Word-a foundation that is based on baptism. We can’t see God, but we have faith that He is alive and living within our hearts as we look forward to the promises that are waiting for us—and we can only do this through the sacrament of baptism.
In Jesus’ time, fathers were the ones who took responsibility for the spiritual growth and well-being of the children—just like our heavenly Father does for His children. The Kingdom is really about caring for the weakest, rather than engaging in political or military victories. It represents true greatness. The blessings God has for us in life belong to those who are like children. We can only come to Jesus in our humble state like children do, looking to Him and His grace alone. God designed us to be dependent on Him like children depend on their parents. Children represent the poor, the needy, the downtrodden, and the ordinary human beings. We are told to come to Jesus as a child—without prejudice, with nothing held back, with the innocence of a child—to experience God’s love for us.
It is often hard for us to come to Jesus as a child—with innocent trust. We like our independence. We like to think of ourselves as sophisticated and in control. We are too childish in our self-esteem to be childlike. If God helps us today, we will be able to see with eyes of faith the truth behind the scenes. So much of life is beyond our control and we need God to protect and bless ALL of us—children and adults. Baptism doesn’t save anyone, but bringing infants to Jesus does bring spiritual blessings from God to the child-like faithfulness of the parents.
The touch of God on a child’s life is like a divine tag in which Jesus says, “This child is mine. She may wander all over the world, but she has the tag, the early impression of Jesus in her life, the touch of Christ on her life”. This touch comes through baptism into a new life in Christ. We do not make the rules about who comes to Jesus—Jesus does. We do not discriminate in who hears the gospel. We must reach all with it. Moreover, we must not place barriers in the lives of those who desire to come to Christ. We can hinder believers by our attitude, inconsistencies, hypocritical living, or by selling a brand of religion that does not show God’s grace and His free offer of eternal life. When we are dependent and trusting, there is a mutuality of bonding that can occur and allow the Spirit of God to flow into our lives in ways that are not blocked. Baptism removes everything that hinders believers.
We begin the proper training of children by making sure our heart is right with God long before they come into the world. When they come into the world, we begin to exert that influence upon their lives. Bringing children to Jesus is like bringing Him a diamond in the rough—a diamond that can be cut and polished and become of invaluable worth. We have a choice to make. Jesus can do the polishing and cutting, or our corrupt, sinful world can.
Baptism gives us the spiritual cleansing that we need to begin our new life in Christ, but we also need the regular spiritual cleansing that is provided when we partake of Christ’s body and blood through the Eucharist. Just like our clothes need regular cleaning, or our physical bodies need daily cleaning, our spiritual lives need the regular cleaning that we get when we partake of the Eucharist. We all need a good spiritual cleaning on a regular basis, just like Jesus cleaned the money changers and vendors from the temple. When Jesus saw evil in the temple of the Lord, He gave it a good cleaning. If Jesus inspects our lives, will he find things that need to be cleaned out? Baptism allows the Spirit to get into every nook and cranny, every crack, every crevice of our souls and clean out the dirt of our evil, sinful, corrupt previous life.
It is never a pleasant experience when the Holy Spirit shows us what we need to change in our lives, but we aren’t left to do all the work ourselves. In fact, on our own we can’t overcome the sin that needs clearing out. We need God’s power in order to change, and the Spirit works in us to make sure we do. The Spirit’s job is started through the waters of baptism, and continues with the spiritual cleansings we receive through the Eucharist.
Jesus taught that we are to be nothing, and the less we are and the weaker we are, the better. The less we have of self, the more room there is for His divine grace. We are to be like children—weak and having nothing. When a child believes in Jesus, it cares nothing for critical points. That is the way we must come to Christ. When we come to Him, He will make heaven our home, and He will take us in His arms.
I’d like to close this message with these words from an email I received a few years ago. They accurately describe how we are to come to God like a child and not keep others from coming to him. The poem is entitled:
WHEN YOU THOUGHT I WASN’T LOOKING
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you hang my first painting on the refrigerator, and I immediately wanted to paint another one.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you feed a stray cat, and I learned that it was good to be kind to animals.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you make my favorite cake for me and I learned that the little things can be the special things in life.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I heard you say a prayer, and I knew there is a God I could always talk to and I learned to trust in God.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you make a meal and take it to a friend who was sick, and I learned that we all have to help take care of each other.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you give of your time and money to help people who had nothing and I learned that those who have something should give to those who don’t.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you take care of our house and everyone in it and I learned we have to take care of what we are given.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw how you handled your responsibilities, even when you didn’t feel good and I learned that I would have to be responsible when I grow up.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw tears come from your eyes and I learned that sometimes things hurt, but it’s all right to cry.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw that you cared and I wanted to be everything that I could be.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I learned most of life’s lessons that I need to know to be a good and productive person when I grow up.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I looked at you and wanted to say, “Thanks for all the things I saw when you thought I wasn’t looking.”
Each of us (parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, teacher or friend) influences the life of a child. How will you touch the life of someone today? Have you come to Him completely? Are you resting safe in His arms, or are you hesitating? Are you being hindered or prevented by someone or something in your life? There is no sorrow when we completely rest on Him like a child—a true child of God.