Tuesday, March 27, 2007
This is what happens when you let your eight-year-old use the camera- very scary.
I have been leading a study of Luke this year and have been struck by Luke's consistent emphasis on the poor. I wrote up the following thoughts on a few key passages that I think have been misinterpreted over the years. It was a bit controversial when I shared it with my study. I am eager to know what others think.
“…like a little child…”
What does it mean? What is Jesus referring to when He tells us that we must become like little children?
The common interpretation, at least what I have always heard, is that we should have the faith of children. Children’s faith is innocent and wholehearted; they love Jesus and readily believe truths about Him. These are wonderful traits and most of us quickly agree with this interpretation without much question. However, a closer look at the relevant passages shows that this interpretation is not what Jesus intended. In saying that, I am not saying that children do not have a pure faith that we should imitate, but rather that Jesus was not speaking of their faith in these passages. In context it is clear that Jesus is referring to the humble position of children.
Children, and in some of the passages He seems to be referring to infants, had no possessions and no rights; they were weak, dependent on their parents and the community for everything, and under the authority of others.
Matthew 18:1-6 Who is greater?
At that hour the disciples came to Jesus, saying, Who is the greater in the kingdom of Heaven? And Jesus called a little child to Him and set him in their midst, and said, Truly I say to you, Unless you are converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven. Therefore whoever shall humble himself like this little child, this one is the greater in the kingdom of Heaven. Mat And whoever shall receive one such little child in My name receives Me. But whoever shall offend one of these little ones who believes in Me, it would be better for him that an ass's millstone were hung around his neck, and he be sunk in the depth of the sea.
Mark 9:34-37 Who is first?
But they were silent. For in the way they had disputed among themselves who was the greatest. And He sat down and called the Twelve and said to them, If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all. And He took a child, and embraced it, and set him in their midst. And He said to them, Whoever receives one of such children on My name receives Me. And whoever receives Me does not only receive Me, but Him who sent Me.
And when the ten heard, they began to be indignant with James and John. But Jesus called them and said to them, You know that they who are accounted rulers over the nations exercise lordship over them. And their great ones exercise authority on them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever desires to be great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever of you desires to become first, he shall be servant of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.
Luke 9:46-48 Who is greater?
And an argument came in among them, who might be the greater of them. And seeing the argument of their heart, Jesus took a child and set him beside Him. And He said to them, Whoever shall receive this child in My name receives Me. And whoever shall receive Me receives Him who sent Me. For he who is least among you all, he shall be great.
Luke 22:24-27 Who is greater?
And there was also a dispute among them as to which of them seems to be greater. And He said to them, The kings of the nations exercise lordship over them. And they who exercise authority on them are called benefactors. But you shall not be so: but the greater among you, let him be as the lesser, and he who governs, as one who serves. For which is the greater; he who reclines, or he who serves? Is it not he who reclines? But I am among you as He who serves.
This becomes clear when we see the underlines phrases above. There are seven passages in the gospels regarding children and the kingdom. Five of the seven passages in Matt, Mark, and Luke that cover this topic (all quoted above) are in the context of the disciples arguing about who is greatest. [Note Mk 10:41-45 and Lk 22:24-27 do not mention children but deal with who is greatest, and, therefore, should be included in a discussion of this topic as we try to determine what Jesus intends.] Jesus brings a child into their midst as a picture of who is great and then follows that often with words of being a servant, being last, and not being served.
Only one reference to belief exists in the nine passages (Matt 18:6), and Jesus never explicitly says that we should have the “faith of a little child”. In this verse Jesus is warning against offending a child, who believes in Him. The focus here is not on the faith of the child but rather on the person who offends.
In fact this is making a case against faith being the correct interpretation as it would seem strange for Jesus to be calling us to imitate a faith and then present it as being offended and needing to be protected. However, it fits nice if this is continuing the idea that children are weak and need to be protected. It also goes to show that as we become humble like children Jesus becomes our protector who will punish those against us.
Mark 10:13-16 Children brought to Jesus
And they brought children to Him, so that He should touch them. And His disciples rebuked those bringing them. But when Jesus saw, He was much displeased and said to them, Allow the little children to come to Me and do not hinder them. For of such is the kingdom of God. Truly I say to you, Whoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter into it. And taking them up in His arms, He put His hands on them and blessed them.
Luke 18:15-17 Infants brought to Jesus
And they also brought infants to Him, that He might touch them. But when the disciples saw, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them and said, Allow the little children to come to Me, and forbid them not. For of such is the kingdom of God. Truly I say to you, Whoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no way enter into it.
The two remaining passages listed above deal with children being brought to Jesus to be blessed. These were most likely infants, who wouldn’t even be capable of any noticeable faith. The disciples tried to keep them away from Jesus, but He allowed them to come. He makes the point that, “Whoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no way enter into it.” The meaning of this sentence is debated but for the purpose of this discussion, the context makes it clear that the faith of the children is not what Jesus is intending as the focus.
Both Luke and Mark follow this event with the rejection of the rich young ruler. The point of that story is not that the young man had no faith but that he was rich and could not make God his treasure. Jesus prescription is that he should get rid of all of his possessions – become like a little child- and come follow Jesus. The young man walks away sad because He was so wealthy, and Jesus makes His comments about salvation of the rich, a camel, and the eye of a needle. His point is clearly to warn that the rich, being so connected to their riches, can not make Jesus their treasure. However, children have no treasure to get in the way; they have nothing so it is easy for them to see Jesus as a treasure. In a sense this is faith, but the point is their place and position (or lack thereof), not their childlike faith.
Regarding the application of this interpretation I think it has tremendous implications for the western, evangelical church as well as for my own life. I think it fits well within the message of the whole gospel of Luke as it is a continuous theme touched upon in almost every chapter. I am not going to get into specifics here, but it has been significant for me as I have studied Luke over the last 6 months.