Service: Like a Child
Parents bring their children to Jesus so that he might bless them. Jesus says that it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Moreover, he says that if you don't receive the kingdom of God as a little child receives it, then you cannot enter it (Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17). What could Jesus possibly mean? We've grown up hearing that Jesus wants us to have "childlike faith." Indeed, here is where the popular term comes from (though it is not in the Scriptures). The thinking goes like this, I suppose: Jesus is talking about entering the kingdom of God. Entrance into the kingdom of God is by faith, and therefore Jesus must be talking about children's faith. But this is not what Jesus is saying at all. Children also believe in Santa Claus and the Easter bunny. Jesus is not praising gullibility or blind faith. (In every area of life, we'd ascribe this kind of unexamined acceptance of something as a failing, and so we should with faith.
Certainly faith and reason are not opposed; they are complementary, informing one another. Furthermore, Paul says our childlikeness should not be in our understanding but in our innocence [1 Corinthians 14:20].) Jesus is not praising emptiness or deficiency, but fullness. Children are humble. They are not moved by riches or power but by friendship and relationship. They are forgiving. This bounty is in their nature. But it gets lost somewhere along the way because of pain, pride, and shame. Brennan Manning, in The Ragamuffin Gospel, says, "For the disciple of Jesus, 'becoming like a little child' means the willingness to accept oneself as being of little account and to be regarded as unimportant." To become like a little child, to inherit the kingdom of God, as the Beatitudes puts it, is to be pure of heart, poor in spirit, and humble. In John Chrysostom's homily on the passage, he says, "For this is the limit of true wisdom; to be simple with understanding; this is angelic life; yes, for the soul of a little child is pure from all the passions. Towards them who have vexed him he bears no resentment, but goes to them as to friends, as if nothing had been done." This is Christ's meaning. And he blesses the children, for they are epiphanies of God, whose image shines brightly within them.
One summer, my niece went on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. She loves God with that particular enthusiasm unique to teenage girls; she's all Scripture verses and hymning and praising God. I recently received a copy of her letter thanking everyone for their support and outlining what her team did and how God had worked. It was invigorating, like a polar bear plunge—so alive! Indeed, so alive and other that you're tempted to quickly judge it in some way so that it cannot judge you. But her service flows out of her childlikeness, her pure-heartedness and humility. And this is the heart of true service: It is not given out of guilt or pride or Christian peer-pressure (if you're a good Christian, you do [or do not] . . .). It is conceived in humility and joy. It springs up out of childlikeness. It is that spirit that sees everyone else on the playground as a playmate and not as an enemy or a stranger. And when you begin to see with those eyes—to see Christ in your brother and sister, in the least of these—then you run to his side to bear him up. There is nothing else to do.