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.” (Mt 18:1-3)

Their best guess was probably Peter as the disciples asked Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” I wonder what the disciples expected Jesus to say? They’d been around him long enough to know that his answer might be another confusing analogy or story they didn’t understand. But if Peter was indeed the greatest, it would at least give them something to measure themselves against in their pursuit of glory. 

Enter a child into the circle of anxious men. In the words of Chad Bird, children in the Graeco-Roman world “were only significant inasmuch as they could become something they were not yet.” Children were not valued because they were cute (though they usually are) or because of their supposed innocence. Their worth was tied to their potential; the acquiring of skills, human development, and the hope of honorable Roman citizenship. But Jesus holds a child in their childlike state and gives the disciples an answer they could not comprehend. In the kingdom of God, become like little children, as they are; humble, utterly dependent, willing for their Redeemer to pick and place them where he pleases. Helplessness is precisely what makes one great in God’s kingdom. 

My wife and I welcomed a little child into our lives this summer. He is a forever gift in the life of an anxious man. Like babies do, he cries at night. His tears are full of need for which he is helpless to meet. He cannot quell his hunger, or clean up his mess, or grab a blanket against the cold. His demands are honest, as transparent as pleas can be. We stumble through the stillness of the night; my wife gives him her body, I offer new clothes and kisses for every inch of him. When his wave of needs has calmed, he rests in his new stillness; the surface of his being is calm, without a ripple or current of concern.

His thanks are his coos and closeness, and his smell of newness. They are gifts everlasting. And in the palm of my hand, he stares up at me, trying to make sense of this help received in the dead of night. I stare back, wondering the same, feeling new levels of love for this life in my hands. I search his eyes, as he does mine, for our physical resemblance. But this night, the similarities reach deep down to our souls. His stare is a reminder of our shared infant vision, his wide eyes filled with good news; the God who never slumbers nor sleep watches over you, our cries for help have been heard, newness of life has been given.