At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; 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.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, ‘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.’
Why does Jesus say that people must receive the kingdom as a little child? Does it really just mean that we must keep ourselves humble, ‘little’?
It speaks to me as something to do with the nature of the kingdom, and the act of living prophetically as its citizens, while patently living in a world that is far from being the kingdom of God.
It speaks of the imaginativity of children.
For a child does not need to square the circle of the world imagined and the world as adults tell her it is in actuality. For the child the bedsheet, blanket and clotheshorse is a tent, or a castle, and the garden or the living room is a desert or a kingdom, even if when you pick up a blanket and ask what it is, she will tell you it is a blanket.
As Walter Brueggemann surveys the role of the imagination in faith (Texts Under Negotiation: Bible and Postmodern Imagination, Fortress 1993, pp13–17) he suggests we must not see the world as if the kingdom was in place, but as the kingdom come, with different rules already in place – and further, not just to see it as the kingdom come, but to take it as the kingdom come, acting not as if, but acting as citizens of a kingdom that has broken in.
In the child’s lived imagination, she takes the clotheshorse as the castle and the garden as the kingdom. Must we not do the same?
Is this not somewhere at the bottom of what Jesus means when he says, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it”?