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Jesus' humbling answer to the "greatest" question

October 21, 2022
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Daily Scripture

Matthew 5:3, 5, 18:1-4

Matthew 5

3 “Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

5 “Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth.

Matthew 18

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 Then he called a little child over to sit among the disciples, 3 and said, “I assure you that if you don’t turn your lives around and become like this little child, you will definitely not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Those who humble themselves like this little child will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

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Daily Reflection & Prayer

When the disciples asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus called a little child to sit among them as his answer. Our world and culture tend to value children more highly than the culture Jesus lived in, but we’d still be unlikely, left to our natural impulses, to answer a “greatest” question as Jesus did. And we’d surely struggle to regard as “blessed” or “happy” (the language Jesus used could support both meanings) those he mentioned in Matthew 5.

  • In the “beatitudes,” Jesus would have used an Aramaic phrase that meant a supreme gift from God, a joy not reliant on good circumstances or fortune. Scholar N. T. Wright said, “In our world, still, most people think wonderful news consists of success, wealth, long life, victory in battle. Jesus is offering wonderful news for the humble [and others].” * Do Jesus’ words in any way ring true for you? Do you wish you had the “blessedness” he offered to the hopeless and humble?
  • Jesus often drew on the prophets who came before him. “As verses 3–4 are based on Isaiah 61, so verse 5 finds its background in Psalm 37:11….The meek (or “humble”) of this verse and the “poor” of verse 3 are the same people viewed from a different perspective. In fact, in the language of Jesus the word could hardly be distinguished from ‘poor.’” ** Do you believe the relative prosperity almost all of us in the U.S. have makes it easier or harder to experience Jesus’ blessing on the humble?
Prayer

King Jesus, you could have dazzled us. Instead, you came to an obscure village, lived among ordinary working folk, and served instead of demanding your rights. Help me learn deep inside from your model of humble service. Amen.

GPS Insights

Picture of Leah Swank-Miller

Leah Swank-Miller

Leah Swank-Miller is Director of Student Ministries at Resurrection Overland Park. A Kansas native, she has been a professional actress for the past 15 years, and she loves to see the vastness of God’s creation through theatre and the arts. Leah is pursuing an M.Div. from Saint Paul School of Theology. Leah, Brian, and their two children love to play tennis, golf, soccer, and board games.

Some of my most humbling experiences come at the hands of teenagers (and not just my own, although that happens too). As a youth pastor, often I’m met with moments that leave me humbled either from not knowing the latest Tik Tok trend or favorite show on Disney. And these students are quick to educate me on what I’m clearly missing out on. HA!

But there are other ways that I’m humbled by our amazing youth. When I think I’ve got all the answers, I can be stumped by one of their profound yet simple questions about life and faith. I’m the seminary student, I’m the one close to a Master’s in Divinity, surely I should be able to answer all questions fielded by the middle school peanut gallery. Any time I start to feel that way I’m usually handed a piece of humble pie.

What I love about these questions that stump me from time to time are where they come from. These aren’t theologians trying to outdo one another or anonymous commenters debating on social media. These questions and insights come from unassuming places of discovery and curiosity. These humble quests for knowledge bring me to a place of much-needed humility.

One Sunday morning I was met with a doozy of a question from one of my students about heartache, pain, and how God would fix it. Suddenly all my scholarly knowledge didn’t quite seem adequate. I knew the origin of a question like this one. It was one I had asked God many times before. And I imagine you have had a similar one yourself from time to time. How can God fix the mess that is in my life right now, when I feel hopeless?

Something beautiful happened when I admitted I didn’t know all the answers. I’ll never forget the look on this student’s face when I admitted my humanness. “I don’t know,” I said, “but I know that I don’t need to know all the answers to know God is still with us, still moving, and still loves us unconditionally, always.” A relief came over them. A realization that it’s okay not to have all the answers.

I’m not “greater in the kingdom of heaven” because I preach a sermon. (Spoiler alert: that goes for all our pastors as well.) When we serve one another in humility with kind curiosity and not critical judgments we experience the blessedness Jesus promised. When we can admit we don’t know and humble ourselves to the curiosity of a child, or a middle schooler on Sunday morning, the real work of God’s blessed joy begins. Jesus, the greatest teacher of all, knew that even knowing all the answers himself, what mattered most was sitting with the low in spirit and serving the hopeless.

© 2024 Resurrection: A United Methodist Church. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
References

* N. T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 1. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, p. 37.

** Barclay M. Newman and Philip C. Stine, comment on Matthew 5:5 in A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew. New York: United Bible Societies, 1988, p. 110.