Jesus on the wisdom of children

Nov 27, 2017 by

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A child knows at a very deep level that he is dependent for his very survival on his parents. And the parents know that their generous love for their child is the key to their child’s survival and flourishing.

Jesus said, “Unless you change and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of God” (Matt. 18).

Why did Jesus bring the child’s relationship of loving dependence into his definition of the kingdom of God? What does this have to do with the adult world of kings, presidents and premiers?

I previously wrote that “Jesus did not present these moral behaviors of enemy love, repeated forgiveness and generous empathy as nice ideas for a few religious folk, but rather as a social strategy for developing a new society — a historically sustainable and psychologically attractive model of human relationships. He called it all the ‘kingdom, kingship, or pervasive ideology’ of the grain of the universe itself, or of God.

What if his reference to children, and by implication to parents who love them into life and maturity, is Jesus pointing to a way of human relating which is effective and essential for operating a “kingdom” — that is, for running the world, because kingdoms were in his day the way the world was organized?

I believe Jesus meant, “Unless you acknowledge that your life, your very survival, depends on the generous love of other people, you will not be an informed participant in God’s way of running the world which I am announcing and demonstrating to you with my life.” Short of this wisdom of children, you will not enter into the kingdom of God.

Children and parents know, at some level, that young people need many chances to fail in learning to eat with a spoon, talk and ride a bicycle. If their parents condemn and punish them for failures instead of forgiving and encouraging them to try again, all kind of disaster and child abuse will follow. Jesus was teaching his people that, in the long sweep of history, we remain children through our lives. Our wisdom and experience are so limited that we never outgrow our need for deep trust on our part and repeated forgiveness on the part of others. Precious few of us think that we will abuse forgiveness and second chances — why do most of us assume that others will?

So in a sense, today’s blog post is a simple invitation (and maybe life’s greatest challenge) to remembering — remembering both your experience of dependence (vulnerability) as a child and the generous forgiveness you practiced as a parent.

Some people, indeed, have experienced very little of generous forgiveness. These are wounded people, and we are becoming more aware all the time of the grim personal and societal consequences of such sad deprivation. But that is a topic for another post. Today, I present the possibility of doing to others what we would like done to us, and, with courage and hope, doing a little more of good to others than was done to us.

John K. Stoner is a member of Akron (Pa.) Mennonite Church. He is co-author of If Not Empire, What? A Survey of the Bible. This post first appeared at bible-and-empire.net.


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