An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, and said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.’
We can be very sentimental about children, especially in churches that do not have any. We think we should treat them as if they are adults and tie ourselves up in knots about how much they understand about Communion.
There is no evidence Jesus was at all sentimental about children. He had younger brothers and sisters and no doubt remembered that children are just as capable of being unpleasant, selfish human beings as those of us in any other age group. But maybe he also remembered two characteristics of many small children that adults tend to honour less.
The first is a willingness to trust even when they do not understand, especially when a parent that loves them is involved. When we try to reduce God to what we can understand, claiming that this is what a scientific age requires, we downsize God until we have an idol of our own construction. We have decided greatness is ours not God’s.
The second characteristic is a sense of wonder that flows into what we would once have called reverence. We may not be good at nurturing this but many of us can remember moments when we felt it, long before we could have composed a theological essay. Worship is mechanical without a sense of wonder; but with it worshipping a mysterious and majestic God is possible for all, regardless of intellectual competence.
It should be no surprise that those close to truly great people frequently comment on their innate humility. Whatever hype surrounds them, they know that they are not the centre of the universe. Some of them know who is.
Heavenly Father Save me from infantile responses to today’s irritations and challenges. Thank you for those who will trust me today; help me not to let them down. And in the swirl of today’s jobs, prompt me to remember the times when I have glimpsed what you are like and been able gladly to put my trust in you for today, tomorrow and all eternity. Amen
John Ellis, former Moderator of the General Assembly and Secretary of Capel United Church in Kent