I FEEL CHILDLIKE IN PRAYER
Jesus called a little child and had him stand among them. Then He said, “Verily I say unto you, if you do not convert and become like little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whosoever humbles himself like this little child, that one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And who receives such a child in my name, receives me” (Mt. 18:2-5). Mark had Jesus take the child in his arms and then speak to his self-elevated disciples (Mk. 9:36). Both, Mark and Luke added “whosoever shall receive me receives him that sent me.” Luke also inserted, “for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great” (Lk. 9:48).
The astronauts had just returned from the Moon and brought with them a sample of a rock. My family and I visited Washington DC, and to view the rock, was on our primary agenda. I never saw the rock because I was looking for a large rock and not for one that fitted into the pocket of a jacket. Our two lads called, “Dad, Dad, over here!” From where I stood, I saw no rock and did not grasp what they were looking at. The difference was that our boys were looking for a small rock, while I was using up time looking for something, that was not there. We learned early, from our children, that they were more pleased with small things, rather than with larger and more expensive items. They were content to be humble and pleased, when we embraced them and told them, we loved them. Now that we have aged and even our grandchildren have grown, we still are not too proud to say, that we are sorry if mistakes are made, and we love you and count it a privilege to have been your parents and grandparents.. It is, my humble opinion, that this was the kind of insight Jesus was looking for in his disciples. To drive his point home, he used a child.
To begin with, what possible insight can a child have? What kind of a childhood did Jesus have? He was the first-born and that was not exactly an easy position. Siblings are not easy on the first-born. Jesus’ sibling regarded him a bit out of his mind, when He had become a teacher. I am a first-born and my siblings used me like a checkerboard. My brother had me on edge, all the time. If I did not or even could not please him, he threw himself down and screamed. Father came running to the rescue and had no hesitation to hit me for no reason at all. I was nine, when talk of war with Germany began. The very next day, children called me “Hitler” and threw stones at me. My best friend fell into mud and blamed me for having pushed him and I was nowhere near. Father had to punish me. My family stayed with my parents in Canada, while I finished my residence requirement at the Emanuel College. Immigrant children called our eight year old a “Yankee” and threw him off a bridge. Were they bad children? How about Jewish children? Were they different? They did call the prophet Elisha a “baldhead” (II Ki. 2:23-25). Children do what they see their parents, peers, friends and teachers do or merely talk about. They are easily led and mislead. You can kick them around like a ball. I know because I was brainwashed more than once. It was my mother, who kept me from acquiring insight which was not healthy for my life.
Jesus did not want his disciples reverse to being child, but adapt a childlike mind, which could absorb his teaching. It was not like going back into a mother’s womb, like Nicodemus understood the new birth, but a willingness to let in teaching that would make them better people and more tolerant and more compassionate servants in the kingdom that Christ had come to build. The disciple’s minds were not on humility and service, but on greatness and being served as if they were lords (Mt. 20:25-28). One would think that being with Jesus, they would have caught on to serve others. The same thing can hinder us. I have been, led to believe, that the religious group, I had joined, was the only true one. My humble mother, informed me, that God had made many beautiful flowers. I had to allow my mother’s idea enter my mind, so that I, too, could accept what God accepts. And it is, the mind of a child, that best accepts insight that will be beneficial for life and eternity. The Wise Teacher said these words, “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). Regarding the upbringing of Jesus, “Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. Then he went down to Nazareth with them (parents) and was obedient to them. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Lk. 2:41-52). In his Sermon on the Mount, He echoed his upbringing in the Law given to Moses (Mt. 5:17; Deut. 11:18-21). A mother asked an educator when she should begin to educate her child. He asked her when her child would be born. She told him that it was already five years old. The educator replied, “My goodness woman, don’t stand here talking to me – hurry home; already you have lost the best five years” (Wa. 234)
Recently, I sat waiting for my wife at a super store. A boy about ten opened and held the door for several people, some with canes, passing through and not a one said thanks. I felt obligated to praise him. I am troubled because the boy did not look American; for Americans slam doors into those that pass behind them. There is a tremendous need for new insight or at least for simple down to earth manners not too difficult for anyone to grasp. It does not take a supper brain to understand manners and basics like “One cannot do things that hurt others and expect to get away with it.” The Greek word is “nepiois.” It means being child-like rather than being a child. Jesus was not against intellectuals or their learning, but against using their reasoning to alter and abort God’s simple Law “Thou shalt not!” The Hebrew intellectuals took ten simple Laws and turned them into more than 800 “no’s” and more than 600 “yeses.” Intellectuals have a tendency to make things difficult. When I was a boy, my people farmed. They kept the soil alive by simply feeding it what animals and humans discharged. Today, what my folks fed the soil has been declared, “hazardous.” How long will it take before the soil will no longer produce food to feed all the people for want of decomposition? Everything must decompose, even our bodies, if the world is to survive. Our son is a lawyer. We asked him to do a simple thing. His answer is, Dad, Mom, you have no idea how complicated things have become.” I know how complicated religion has become. Our simple, heavenly Father has become the absentee owner of Temples, steeples, buildings, holdings, tax – exemptions, schools with diverse opinions and endless organizations claiming to represent Him. Christianity, like all the other religions, has become elaborate and costly. In the western world, it is beyond sustaining itself financially. Yet, all Jesus wanted to teach us was that God needed no Temple or a mountain but our hearts. He, Himself, felt more at home where two or three met than where the masses tried to impress Him.
How can an adult be childlike? The Psalmist prayed, “Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10). It is not a physical change, but a moral or spiritual attitude. It is the renewal of the mind, and not the body. God’s Spirit has to breathe into us the desire to be humble and receptive to others, with contentment to ourselves. Place a child on a pedestal and ask it to jump into your arms and it will do so without hesitation. To me, it is similar to what Jesus asked Nicodemus to do. The man believed that Moses had elevated a serpent in the wild to save the people; yet he could not accept Jesus as God’s emissary to the world. At that moment, he lacked a childlike faith (Jn. 3:14-15). In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had such people in mind. They are “poor in spirit” or humble, “meek” or gentle, “righteous” or do what is right, “merciful” or forgiving, “pure in heart” or without guile, “peacemakers” or non-violent, “persecuted” or disliked for who they are (Mt. 5:3-12). Yet, they are the ones that trust Jesus for preparing a place for them in a better world (Jn. 14:1-3). Long time ago, I read about an atheist with faith only in himself watched his only child dying. “Father,” it begged, “whom shall I believe, mother or you?” He replied, “Trust your mother’s faith.”