In today’s Gospel from St. Matthew, Jesus’ disciples rebuke people who were bringing their children to Jesus “that he might lay his hands on them and pray.” Jesus responds by instructing them, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
What does Jesus mean? What does it mean to say the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these?
What qualities do children have that we might learn from?
I can think of at least two.
First, children often possess an openness to mystery that adults sometimes lack. Edith Stein once suggested that insights into the “truths of faith” neither require scholarly education nor are beyond a child’s powers of comprehension. And, she observed, “[t]he strong desire to be introduced to the mysteries of God is often stronger in small children than in adults.” I don’t know that I agree with Stein that children posess stronger desire, but I do think children have an openness to mystery and an ability to experience it with bare awareness, that does not come so easily to many adults.
Second, children have a greater awareness of their dependence than do adults. Poverty of spirit, the first of the Beatitudes, has little do to with material poverty and everything to do with our recognition of our absolute dependence on God, of our appreciation that all we are and all we have is gift from our loving God. Acknowledging that dependence is something many people have great difficulty with; we like to think of ourselves as self-sufficient, able to to everything on our own. Perhaps Jesus is holding up the children’s recognition of their dependence on others.
Those are the two qualities of children that come to my mind when I read this passage. Perhaps you can think of others.