The disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
“And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
“Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! (Matthew 18:1-7)
The disciples thought Jesus would answer their question with someone’s name. Perhaps they thought he would say God, or maybe name himself. In their hearts, each disciple may have hoped to hear his own name.
The disciples’ question rose from false presuppositions. They thought they knew what the kingdom of God was: a descendent of David sitting on an earthly throne, ruling from Jerusalem, the new world capital. They imagined something like the Roman Empire, only bigger and badder. Who would be the greatest in such an earthly kingdom? The obvious answer would be someone rich, or someone famous, someone who had performed great deeds, subdued armies. Perhaps a general. Certainly someone of significance.
Jesus pulled the rug out from everyone’s expectations when he brought a child over and announced “this one.”
How could that be? Children were unimportant and powerless. How could the greatest in the kingdom of heaven be like that? Like a little kid?
Because that’s what Jesus was like. He was the Son of God. He was like a little kid. He arrived not to do his own will, but the will of his Father who had sent him. He accomplished nothing on his own, but only what his Father did through him. People who focused their attention on God and others, rather than themselves, people who were easily ignored—those were the ones who were greatest.