Season 7 - Week 2
Who is greatest?
Perhaps one of them was chewing over that comment about John the Baptist.
Jesus had told the crowd that, “among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28). I can imagine Peter saying out loud as they walked to Capernaum, “If John is the least, who is the greatest?” They begin discussing what model of holiness, authority, wisdom and spiritual power Jesus would point to. By the time they have arrived it’s a full-blown argument about which of them is closest.
Jesus knows what’s going on. He pulls a child into the centre of the conversation. I imagine they fall quiet.
In every culture and age there are distinct ideas of what childhood is, and what it might mean to become ‘like a child’. To be innocent. To be dependent. To be vulnerable. To know joy. To feel free enough to follow our instincts. I’m not going to pretend I know exactly what Jesus means here. But what is clear is that He firmly believes, and delights in the fact, that the Father has ‘hidden’ certain treasures from the ‘wise and learned and revealed them to little children” (Matt 11:25-26).
So how do we become like children?
Maybe like Nicodemus in John 3 this seems impossible to you: “How can someone be born when they are old?...Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
If you’re anything like me you might also be thinking “Don’t you like ‘grown up me’, Jesus? I can’t go backwards! I can only be myself.”
And yet, people who spend lots of time in the company of Jesus often do seem to get younger. They are playful, emotionally honest and somehow comfortable in their own skins.
Jesus tells us that prayer should be shameless (Luke 11:8), straightforward (Matthew 7:9) and like talking to a parent in your bedroom (Matthew 6:6).
It might take a bit of practice to pray like that, but it’s fun. Here’s an exercise you can try to pray like a child:
Grab yourself a felt-tip and some paper, and write a note to God.
You might want to lie on the floor, sit under a tree or find yourself a quiet corner where you wouldn’t normally go, and won’t be noticed (near the ground is good…).
Before you start, switch the felt tip to the hand you don’t normally write with.
Don’t overthink what you want to say, just start writing. It will feel strange to write (or draw) with your non-dominant hand. It’ll look messy, but just let the words come. As a Jesuit friend of mine likes to say, ‘Talk to God, as one friend talks to another’.
When you’re done, take a bit of time to be still. If you want to you could use your dominant hand again and write a reply, asking what God as Father or Mother might want to say back to you.
“Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me”
Close your time of prayer by meditating on the scripture or by reflecting on what that experience was like.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
What do Jesus' words conjure up for you? Perhaps Lucie's exercise above gave you a feeling of incompetence - something which children regularly experience as they grow and learn. Was that a familiar or a difficult experience for you? Are there qualities you associate with childhood that you could experiment with incorporating into your spiritual practices? Play? Dancing like no-one's looking? Drawing or painting without feeling self-conscious about the end result?
Are you someone who likes to join in with the games and activities you organise for young people (if that's part of your role)? Or do you prefer to stay in the role of organiser? What would it be like to join in - could you take it on this week as a spiritual challenge? See it as an undercover spiritual exercise!