People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10:13-16.
When we read it carefully, we find that this passage contains a conundrum and it is this: if anyone is to enter the kingdom of God, he or she must receive the kingdom of God; yet surely receiving and entering are two quite different things?
How is the conundrum to be resolved?
Let’s start with this idea of “the kingdom of God”. What is it? Where is it? If we look at the teaching of Jesus in both word and deed, there can only be one answer: The kingdom of God is the will of God being done on earth as in heaven (Matthew 6:10). It is the unfettered flow of his forgiving, reconciling, redeeming love in the world. Where the will of God is being done, where the love of God is being poured out, there is the kingdom of God. But if that is what and where the kingdom of God is, it exists only in Jesus himself. He is the incarnation of the kingdom of God. (The church father, Origen, called Jesus the autobasileia – the kingdom itself.) Only in Jesus is the will of God done on earth as it is in heaven. Only in him is God’s forgiving, reconciling, redeeming love set loose in the world.
So to “receive” the kingdom of God is to receive Jesus himself. And in this passage Jesus makes it clear that only people who are child-like can do that in any full or meaningful way. Elsewhere in the gospels we read of a Pharisee “receiving Jesus into his house” but that is not the sort of receiving that Jesus is talking about – cautious, suspicious, curious, sceptical, devious. His reference to little children (it is a reference to “babies” in the corresponding passage in Luke’s gospel) is surely a reference to the qualities they possess in abundance but that generally diminish with growth and maturity – openness, trust, weakness, dependence, transparency and, above all, lack of merit. Only those who receive Jesus into their lives with those attitudes and qualities, truly receive him … and, in receiving him, find themselves in the kingdom of God!
For this is the truth of the matter that experience bears out. Once we receive Jesus into our lives with openness and trust, recognising our weakness and emptiness and need, we find we have in some way crossed a border, passed from death to life, become people through whom the love of God starts to flow and the will of God starts to get done. We are in the kingdom!
It is perhaps like when a baby is born. It is by receiving its first lungful of air that it enters the world of air-breathing beings.
Lord Jesus, thank you that, because I have opened my heart to you, you live in me. And thank you that because you live in me, I live in you and am part of your kingdom. Amen.