At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:1-5)
This is not the only time the disciples of Jesus would be caught wondering who would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven that Jesus would bring in. All of them probably hoped for the greatest honor, and the right to be at Jesus’ right hand. It is human nature, I think, to want to be important and to be honored and to have prestige and power. After all, remember that the disciples still did not understand that the kingdom Jesus would be bringing in would not be like earthly kingdoms. We can cut them some slack about this since they had no other concept of a kingdom except a nation with a king as its ruler. They had no idea what the kingdom that Jesus spoke of was like. And truth be told, neither do we, really. But as followers of Jesus the Christ, we believe it is beautiful in every sense of the word and filled with light, holiness, and grace.
Once upon a time I attended a Sunday School class in a church of another denomination (I tell you this not because it could not happen in a UMC Sunday School class, but to save you the trouble of trying to figure out in which of the churches I have served this happened). The discussion was about heaven: how to get there, what it would be like, who one might or might not find there. Finally, a thirty-something man, leaned forward in his seat and asked with great earnestness and sincerity, “Well, what I want to know is how do you get ahead up there? How do you get ahead in heaven?”
Sigh. It is hard for us earth-bound creatures even to conceive of a place where there is no struggling to do more great things, get more admiration, have more money even if it means stepping on a few of our neighbors on our way to the top. There are some African and Native American peoples who have this kind of community ethic, but we Americans seem to be more competitive, as if there is not enough success for everybody and so I had better get mine.
Rick’s dad used to love to sing the country song that went, “Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way.” We would laugh when he did it because we knew he was not serious. But there is some truth in those words for most of us. I see things from my point of view. Why would everybody not see the world as I see it? And yet, in heaven, Jesus says, we must all be like children. Willing to acknowledge our arrogance and ambition and willing to learn to be humble.
In the words of the prophet Micah:
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good:
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Maybe in these gray and rainy days of Lent in COVID-19, we can search our hearts, and ask God how we can become more like children (dependent, obedient, not judging others) and how we can walk humbly with our God.
Blessings in this Lenten Season.
Pastor Rachel Moser