Thursday, February 11, 2010
Like A Child
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He 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 welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
...theology ceases to be a theology of the gospel when it fails to arise out of the community of the oppressed.
There’s a pre-requisite to being a part of what God is doing in the world: “Unless you change and become like children.” This does not mean that we become innocent or immature or worry-free. It means that we learn to become humble and marginalized. In the 1st century, the Roman Empire—including the colony of Palestine, where Jesus lived, taught and healed—was structured into what is known as the “paterfamilias,” a hierarchy of society from Caesar to Governors to regional political leaders to military generals to fathers/husbands to women and finally to children. There existed a very strict order of business. The men ran everything and the lowliest status one could have, even lower than the women of the house, was to be a child. Children had no voice in that culture. Sounds awful. But this was the only road to greatness.
This passage is not a sore thumb of Gospel stories. It comes with kingdom of God territory inhabited by good Samaritans and undignified, running fathers. It simply adds to hype of vulnerability and transparency. Jesus was crucified. He ate dinner with lepers. He included women. To be childlike people means that we must reject triumphalism and exceptionalism. Those who have little or no status in our culture hold the keys to wisdom and discernment. They teach us what is important and what should be prioritized. There is power in the pain they endure. This is why Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Dietrich Bonhoeffer are such compelling figures for us today. They held on to unpopular convictions and they paid the price even before they were murdered. We can learn from illegal immigrants, gays & lesbians, sex addicts, gardeners, janitors, stay-at-home moms and blue-collar workers. They have the advantage of speaking from the margins. Their experience has shaped them in godly ways. You can see it in their eyes and hear it in the depth of their words. They are more present and more empathetic in dialogue. They are more willing to shed blood, sweat and tears in causes of justice, mercy and compassion.
Jesus had authority in his words and deeds. He learned it from the margins. He was a poor, tired peasant blue collar worker. He was overlooked by those in his community (“isn’t this Joseph’s son?”). He felt the oppression of Empire as those around him fell further into debt and lost their land and possessions. He was homeless (“the son of man has no place to lay his head”) and he openly wept. His own childlike status gave him the boldness to tell the rich man to give up the properties he had claimed and to call King Herod a “fox.” The kingdom of God blossoms from below, that status-free zone where life is hard, yet hopeful and each day is dark, yet deep.