“Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” Luke 18:16-17
What does it mean to “receive the kingdom of God as a little child“?
Receiving the kingdom is receiving God and all His promises. Accepting His love, His forgiveness, His mercy. It is a wondrous gift given to us. So how do we receive it?
When a child is given a gift, especially a gift that they truly want, they are beyond thrilled! They don’t open the gift and carry on and on about “oh no you shouldn’t have!” or how they are not worthy of such a gift. They know that it was given to them in love. And so they receive it fully. A little girl doesn’t open the doll she has been hoping for and then set her aside to play with some day in the distant future. Instead, she will open the gift and instantly play with the doll. The gift is immediately put to use and is never far from her.
In the same way, we are to receive God’s gift to us. We have been given the greatest gift there ever could be. Do we refuse to accept it because we feel unworthy? Do we place it up on a shelf to collect dust? Or to we embrace the gift and put it to use? If we are following our call to be like the little children, we know we need to fully receive and use these gifts.
We have been given so many gifts. Too many to list! But for now I am going to focus on mercy, forgiveness, and love. How do children receive these gifts and put them to use?
I spent three years teaching in the toddler classroom of a local childcare center. That’s thirteen toddlers a year for three years. Inevitably, on any given day, someone would hurt someone else. One child gets angry and hits another child. Someone has the toy car that they clearly wanted first and so they bite them. Or pull out hair. Or kick. Or throw a book at them. Or maybe not physically harm at all. Maybe shout in their face. Or perhaps give them the worst insult a toddler could receive from another toddler…”You are not invited to my birthday party!” (Side note…most of the time this threat was issued, no one’s birthday was even remotely close)
So Sammy hits Sally and they both begin to cry. Sally because she is hurt. Sammy because he knows he did wrong and will likely get in trouble for it. After a little teacher intervention, the tears are dried, they hug each other and move along. They might return immediately to playing with each other. Or they may go play with another child for the time being. But they aren’t mad at each other. They are back to being friends, just like that! Later on, perhaps even the same day, Sally might get angry and scream in Sammy’s face. Despite the earlier confrontation, again the tears will be wiped, hugs will be given, and they will carry on.
They forgive. Will they fight again? Of course. Will they make mistakes and hurt each other? Probably. But each time, through they may scream and cry like the world is ending, they will forgive everything and go back to playing together.
How do we forgive others who hurt us? Do we hold grudges? Does it take time for us to determine whether they are truly sorry before we accept their apology and move along? And what about our repeat offenders? When someone who has hurt us before hurts us again, do we bring up the pain from the past? Or do we let the past stay where it is and simply forgive again?
In the toddler classroom, when someone is crying the other children take notice. If one child started to cry because they were missing Mom, often times another child would offer up a stuffed animal, favorite blankie, or coveted toy to try and make them feel better. When someone would cry uncontrollably, there would always be another child close by to ask in the most sincere way, “Why are they crying? Are they sad?” Toddlers don’t ask this out of obligation. They truly want to know. Why is their friend sad? And how can they help? It doesn’t matter to them if their friend is crying because they miss mom, because they wanted juice instead of milk, or because they don’t want to sit on the potty. They don’t worry about whether their tears are sincere. They simply want to help.
When we see others around us in need, do we show them this kind of mercy and compassion? Or do we try to analyze the situation before offering assistance? How often in today’s society do we hear people say that they don’t help this person or that organization because they don’t know where the money really will be used. Or because they don’t think that person is sincere in their troubles. Or because they feel there is nothing they can do. Let’s take a cue from these little ones and offer mercy to all those around us in whatever way we can.
How do the little ones love? With all their hearts. They love the person. It does not matter to them what color their skin is or how much money they have. They aren’t concerned with the lifestyle of their friends, with the bad things they do that get them in trouble. They don’t judge each other over every mistake. They see the good rather than focusing on the bad.
What about us? What are the barriers that we put up which prevent us from loving others? Are we more concerned with race, religion, sexual orientation, or political affiliation than we are in getting to know the person? Not by their past, not by their faults, but by the good within them. By the person that God created them to be.
The little children receive kingdom of God with arms and hearts wide open. They joyfully accept the wonderful gifts God has given and put them to use without a second thought. They forgive, they care, they love. Let us pray that our hearts may be made open and pure like those of the littlest children so that we might accept the Lord’s gifts and receive His kingdom fully.