I found myself in a familiar passage in Luke’s gospel this morning. Luke begins the story with the people bringing their tiny babies to Jesus for him to touch. In a society where children were neither seen nor heard, it doesn’t seem out of place for his disciples to shoo the people away. Jesus as always has a counter culture, unexpected response. He not only receives these little ones, but he also embraces them and blesses them and then says something that I’m sure was quite confusing.
Receive the kingdom of God as a child or else you will never enter. Jesus tells us, this is the truth, a sure foundation to stand upon. So it got me wondering, how does a child receive? I’m fortunate to have a handful of kids running around my house at any moment so I pondered, how do my children receive a gift or really any good thing that’s been presented to them? I thought of words like excitement, wonder, joy. Small children have the ability to immerse themselves so fully in the moment they are in and so feel these things to the fullest measure. Children have no fear of good gifts given to them from their loving parent, and never wonder if any strings are attached. Children receive with open hands and open hearts.
Do I receive the good gift, the invitation to enter my true home, God’s kingdom, in this way?
Luke then immediately goes into the next story and so I continued to read. A man Luke calls a ruler, comes to ask Jesus a question that is important to him. I imagine this man has it all together given the nature of his questioning and responses. He thinks he has life all figured out, he’s rich, he’s young, he’s a ruler, and he’s kept all the commandments. Now he wants to know how to get everything in order for life in the age to come. Jesus tells him to sell everything he owns, distribute it to the poor and then come and follow him. The man is sad, Jesus can tell and he says to the people how hard it will be for those with many possessions to enter God’s kingdom. Their reaction, well then who can be saved?
I have many possessions and a life that seems pretty together, will I enter God’s kingdom?
At first glance, it’s easy to read these two stories as separate, each with their own meaning but then why did Luke tell them back to back and why did some person decide centuries ago to group them together under one heading? And then I made a connection. Why does a child receive with wonder and excitement and joy? Because they possess nothing. There is room in their heart to receive and they are totally dependent on their parents to provide for them. When that parent-child relationship is one of love and security the child trusts and their heart is open wide.
Jesus looked beyond the exterior of the rich, young ruler, of his life all put together. Jesus perceived a heart that was full already. Perhaps full of pride and self-sufficiency. The man found security in his possessions and wealth. Through his acts of doing, he was able to achieve the life he wanted and now he thought through his own actions and work he could achieve the life he wanted in the age to come as well. But that’s not how God’s kingdom works and that was what Jesus was telling the people when he said they must receive as a child.
By giving away his possessions to the poor the young ruler would make room in his heart to receive. By seeing himself dependent on his heavenly Father, he would run to him for what he needed. By following Jesus he would see what the relationship between the father and son is to be, an exchange of love and grace and trust. The young ruler could see that his security comes in his identity, a child of God, and he would receive life to the fullest in this age and the one to come.
Do I have room in my heart to receive? Where do I find my security? Do I see myself as a child, totally dependent on my Father? What possessions must I give away to the poor, so that I might become poor and receive the kingdom of God?