Gospel of Matthew 18: 1-5 (NIV)
1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3 And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
5 “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.”
Without any background to this passage in Matthew’s Gospel, we could regard as innocuous the question put by Jesus’ disciples: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” It is instructive to read the parallel passages in the Gospels of Mark and Luke to find a little of the story leading up to that question.
From Mark chapter 9:
33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
From Luke chapter 9:
46 An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. 47 Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and made him stand beside him …
In the short passage quoted from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus used the little child as a living parable. The key message for his disciples centred around their need to “change and become like little children”.
The main characteristic of the little child to which Jesus drew the disciples’ attention was the child’s humility. How this must have stung his disciples who were arguing, just prior to that conversation with Jesus, about which of them would be the greatest.
We should not wonder that pride is listed first among the “seven deadly sins”! Whether we exhibit it or conceal it, the pride that allows any of us to think of ourselves more highly than we ought is enough to damn us! Do we really grasp the consequences for ourselves when we hold on to our pride. Jesus put it bluntly: “Unless you change … you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Some vocations are likely to be bigger “pride-incubators” than others; that of a Parliamentarian presents special challenges. The role of a politician requires a certain amount of self-promotion: to gain pre-selection, to win a seat in an election, to display the attributes regarded as essential for special responsibilities such as holding ministerial office and reaching key leadership positions. Added to this is the combative nature of modern politics. The Parliamentarian who is willing to change and become like a little child is rare indeed. The Parliamentarian who is child-like and able openly to live the life of humility so commended by Jesus should therefore be a beacon and a guiding light for all.
How is it to be achieved? Not by our own strength, but by the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit. Let us pray for the change in each of us that puts to death self-pride and brings out the child-like humility that Jesus intends for those who love him.