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Young ones as God’s precious sheep

October 25, 2023

Daily Scripture

Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14

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. 5 Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

10 “Be careful that you don’t look down on one of these little ones. I say to you that their angels in heaven are always looking into the face of my Father who is in heaven.

12 What do you think? If someone had one hundred sheep and one of them wandered off, wouldn’t he leave the ninety-nine on the hillsides and go in search for the one that wandered off? 13 If he finds it, I assure you that he is happier about having that one sheep than about the ninety-nine who didn’t wander off. 14 In the same way, my Father who is in heaven doesn’t want to lose one of these little ones.

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. Our culture tends to value children more highly than the culture Jesus lived in, but we’d still be unlikely, from our natural impulses, to answer a “greatest” question as Jesus did. “In ancient society, children were powerless and often overlooked. Ancient speakers and writers typically offered powerful leaders as heroes and models for imitation.” *

  • They offered “powerful leaders as heroes and models for imitation”? After reviewing that evidence, Pastor John Ortberg wrote drily, “Imagine living in a world obsessed with status. (It may not require all that much effort.)” ** What social and spiritual downsides can there be of mainly holding up powerful people as models? What do you learn from Jesus’ strikingly counter-cultural way of identifying “the greatest in the kingdom of heaven”?
  • Matthew tended to arrange Jesus’ teachings in a roughly topical way. It was striking that he put the parable of the lost sheep among other passages in which Jesus taught about God’s high regard for children (and those with a child-like spirit of trust). If you consider Resurrection your church home and have not yet made a commitment to our Generation to Generation campaign, it’s not too late (and we need you). Click here for information and an online commitment opportunity.

Loving God, you valued children enough to tell your followers to be more like them. Guide me in growing a faith that is trustingly child-like (yet never mindlessly childish). Amen.

GPS Insights

Picture of Amy Oden

Amy Oden

Dr. Amy Oden is Professor of Early Church History and Spirituality, teaching at several seminaries. Teaching is her calling, and she looks forward to every day with students. Her latest book (Right Here, Right Now: The Practice of Christian Mindfulness, Abingdon Press, 2017) traces ancient mindfulness practice for Christians today.

. . . turn your lives around and become like this little child” (Matthew 18:3)

I notice as I grow older, I’m more and more drawn to “become like this little child” (Matthew 18:3). The longer I live, the more I become aware of all that I don’t know. The judgments and views I had about the world when I was younger no longer hold sway. Previous certainties give way to a simpler way of being that is open and attentive. To become like a little child and wonder at the world in front of me, I no longer need to analyze, figure out or explain it all. More and more, I long for this.

But, Jesus says, to live here requires “turning my life around” (v. 3). Jesus calls me to turn away from a life founded on knowing stuff–which I’ve spent most of my adult life in the academic world doing!–toward a life that can rest in not knowing. Turn away from thinking I can make sense of the world and turn toward a greater wonder at the Mystery. Turn away from striving to be a good person and turn toward trusting my belovedness in God. 

When I can live here, in simple being, I’m open and receptive to whatever God shows me, rather than grasping and striving to manage or fix.

What does it look like for you to receive Jesus’ invitation “to become like a little child?” Your way will likely look very different from mine. Maybe for you it means to become more playful and take yourself less seriously, or maybe it looks like recovering some of the joys you loved as a child or seeking greater simplicity.

Somehow, Jesus says in his upside-down way, this is the path to the kin-dom of heaven. Give me the grace to follow.

© 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.

* NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture (Kindle Locations 220266-220267). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
** John Ortberg, Who Is This Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012, pp. 75.