“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” the disciples ask Jesus in today’s Gospel (Matthew 18: 1-5).
In a world intent on success, on power, on being the best, Jesus presents an alternative, the child.
“Whoever becomes lowly like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
In Jesus’ time, the child was of little worth.
In some parts of the world, today the child is protected and treated like royalty. The child gets whatever she or he wants.
But in other parts of the world the child is overlooked. He or she is another mouth to feed until the child can start working.
How often I see young children working here – carrying wood, making tortillas, helping push wheelbarrows of sand in a construction project, weeding the corn field with a machete, feeding a younger sister or brother.
This is not just the work that we expect that children learn from their parents. It’s often hard and demeaning work – and the children are sometimes yelled at because they don’t do the work well.
These are the children I think Jesus refers to – ones who suffer being marginalized.
Unless we become one with them, in some way sharing in their suffering and joy, we may not be able to understand what the kingdom of heaven is.
For a few years we had a lunch program for kids here in Santa Rosa. I loved to go there once a week and got to know a number of kids. One stuck out for me, but I cannot remember his name. (It was an unusual name which reminded me of a French writer, but I can’t remember which one.) He was a mischievous nine year old kid who was not in school. One day the cook shared that he had been in the jail overnight because he had “borrowed” a bicycle.
I wonder if he would have been the child that Jesus called and put in the midst of the disciples when they asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”