Nelson Mandela said, “There can be no keener revelation of society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” In today’s society, a lot of thought is put into what it means to have a good childhood. Parents work hard to give their children opportunities, experiences and material possessions, so much so that some consider today’s children and young people to be coddled, entitled and even call them ‘snowflakes’.
In a society where so much effort is put into raising and respecting children, it is hard for us to understand how shocking it must have been for Jesus’ listeners to see him point to a child and hold the child up as the standard they should be aiming for.
In that society, children were inferior to adults. They were supposed to look to adults as examples to follow, not the other way around. It would require immense humility for his disciples to view a mere child as a person whose example they should follow. It would probably have been a concept that was almost impossible to grasp.
The rest of the teaching in these parables shows that teaching humility was Jesus’ aim in making this comparison. The disciples had become concerned about who would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Clearly they needed to re-focus, to remember their position as people in need of a saviour, not princes pushing for a high position in God’s kingdom.
The humble Christian does not argue about who is the greatest. They do not put stumbling blocks in each other’s way. They welcome all believers, not only those who are powerful, influential or wealthy. They rejoice when wayward sheep return to the flock. If we are to live and serve together in the community of the church we, like the disciples, must learn the lessons of humility.