When we think of people who are religious, many conjure up images of old men with long gray beards, black capes and stooped shoulders. Some think of ascetic monks living in the desert. Others picture nuns robed in their habits whispering prayers as they finger their rosaries.
Jesus changed all our presumptions about what it means to be “religious” when he took a little child, stood him in front of his disciples and said, “Except you become as a little child, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-2). When he wanted to forge an image in the mind of his followers Jesus chose a child. Why would he do this?
Jesus left the answer to that question up to us. We can all speculate about the lesson he wanted to teach by choosing a child. Here are a few characteristics that stand out to me when I think about children and the reason he chose a child to illustrate the nature God looks for in Kingdom people.
Children live in the moment. They are not worried about the future. They are not burdened with guilt about the past. Watch children playing on a playground. They have little awareness of time. They wear no watches.
Children become friends fast. Most children have not learned to be hesitant and shy. They greet one another as if they have already met. “Want to play?” And the game is on.
Children laugh. I love listening to children on the school playground and in the park. Anywhere children gather, the air is filled with laughter. It is their nature to laugh.
Children do not know prejudice. I’m not sure when we learn racial and cultural prejudice, but young children have not learned this lesson. They readily accept each other as equals regardless of skin color or clothing. If they notice a difference between them, they ask about it. And, once the difference is recognized they shrug their shoulders and move on.
Children trust. When their father extends his arms and encourages them to jump they fling their bodies into open space fully confident they will be caught.
Children are awed by God’s creation. They are mesmerized by grasshoppers, caterpillars, butterflies and flowers. They stop and take time to watch an ant wrestle a crumb of bread across the ground. They notice the spots on a lady bug.
Children have great imaginations. Give a child a sandbox, a stick, or a can and they can construct unbelievable creations. I watched children recently playing in the sand. They were digging a hole. When I asked what it was, they looked at me with a puzzled look, as if I was the only one who did not recognize the obvious. They patiently explained that it was a grasshopper sanctuary.
This list isn’t complete. You can add others, I am sure. Somewhere within us all is buried the child we once were. Perhaps if we could re-connect with the child-like simplicity within us, we might take our first steps toward becoming Kingdom citizens as Jesus described it.