The tension in Jesus’ earthy ministry was building. “He was determined to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51), where victory over the enemy would be accomplished and usher in the beginning of the new creation. Yet one type of attitude and motivation pressed upon Him from all sides – the human quest for greatness. Consider the ways in which this occurred:Matthew tells us how the disciples asked, “Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (18:1).
Luke relays how “an argument started among them as to which of them might be the greatest” (9:46).
Mark’s account recalls how Jesus called them out on their argument, “but they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest” (9:34).
In each account, Jesus’ response to their misguided pursuit is the same – He had a child stand by His side among them, and “taking him in His arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me’” (Mark 9:36b-37).
To welcome one child in Jesus’ name leads us to Jesus and ultimately to the Father! This is incredible!
But the lesson was quickly forgotten, if it ever registered in the first place. For a bit further along the way to Jerusalem, some children, even babies, were brought to Jesus. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all recount how the disciples themselves began rebuking those, likely many of them mothers, who were bringing their children to Jesus. Jesus rebukes his followers by calling for the children and saying, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all” (Luke 18:16-17).
In both instances, Jesus confronts His disciples’ prideful motivation for greatness and indifference to children. In this way, Jesus once again warns His followers of the way of the religious. After Jesus arrives in Jerusalem in Matthew’s account, He drives out from the temple those seeking greatness and power at the expense of the vulnerable. Instead, Jesus welcomes the blind and lame…and children! “But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done, and the children who were shouting in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they became indignant…” Jesus responds to their pride by quoting Psalms, “have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’?” This verse in Psalm 8 finishes the thought by explaining that God ordains praise from children “because of your adversaries, to make the enemy and the revengeful cease” (Matthew 21:14-17; Psalm 8:2).
To this day, we must guard ourselves from a pursuit of greatness with its indifference to the marginalized, which includes vulnerable children. Unless we have the humility of Jesus Himself, we can subtly integrate religious indignation when confronted with the state of the “least of these.” It is easy to point fingers at the disciples or religious leaders of Jesus’ day and declare them in the wrong, but what about us? This is where it gets very uncomfortable.
What are the subtle (or not so subtle) ways that we pursue greatness with indifference to the “least of these?” The following are some painful ways I (Mark) have encountered such pride in my own life and that of my family:
- A deep, if not undetected, desire for “the good life”
- A pursuit of “godly” family life that can become isolated, even while at times consumed with ministry to the “masses,” while looking past our nearest neighbors and ignorant altogether of our most distant neighbors on the margins
- Busyness that is more about feeling important rather than a restful life that allows us to hear the Father
- Envy over the spirituality or ministry success of others
- Insecurity over what others think of me, my family, my teaching
- A motivation to justify myself in front of others (even the “justification” of certain theological convictions or emphases, that from a wrong motivation can result in complacency rather than a faithful response; For example, it is possible to distort the rationale of “not wanting to create dependency in others” to further insulate our lives from the “least of these”)
- A scarcity mindset that focuses on self-preservation (or ministry-preservation) as opposed to the abundance of sacrificial giving, living, and ministry (in other words, to live by fear over faith)
- Alienating others through political declarations rooted in fear and resentment
- Trying to save my life rather than being willing to lose it
To such a young “godly man” with a precious family and a “successful” ministry, Jesus took a child to His side in our midst, whose name was Victoria Grace. We were broken, and we have never been the same since, because in receiving her life into our family’s life, we have come to Jesus and the Father. From His side, we can see with a new perspective all those that He is bringing to His side. Our broken hearts are made whole again with hope. While we must always guard against prideful indifference in wandering from His side, it helps that in His presence there is unspeakable joy and peace.
I sometimes wonder what Jesus would do if He stepped into our “crazy” world today. The more I reflect on this, the more I am convinced He would do exactly as He did when He stepped into the “crazy” world of the religious community living in the midst of a powerful empire 2000 years ago…He would take a children to His side in our midst – reminding us who we are to welcome and how we can be welcomed into the kingdom of His Father.
A few days ago, two more children (pictured here) were welcomed into the new Kids Alive Children’s Home (“The Orchard”) outside of Pucallpa, Peru. In the kingdom of Jesus and His Father, such a “welcome” is indeed “rescue.” These girls have been rescued from darkness and deception in various forms, which is true in some way for all of us who are at His side. Though all of us are broken, together He makes us whole and fills us with hope – just like we trust these two young girls will experience along with the five other children that have already been rescued and placed into this home.
Kids Alive is one expression over the past 100 years of how Jesus has been taking one child at a time to His side. In doing so, may we all “see” and “understand” true greatness of life in His kingdom – at His side. May we continually be joined together with Him in His great life!
At His side,
Mark, Kristin, Caleb, Jacob, and Rachel Coté
Missionaries of Discipleship and Development based in Pucallpa, Peru
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