In today’s Gospel from St. Mark, Jesus admonishes his disciples for rebuking people who were bringing children to Jesus. But he does more than instruct them to let the children come to him. Instead, he adds, “whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”
What does it mean to accept the Kingdom of God like a child? Brendan Byrne, commenting on the parallel passage in Luke’s Gospel says this:
The saying does not idealize little children in a way oblivious to the self-centeredness and cruelty that all children from time to time display. The point…is that a child has no capacity to earn or pay for what it needs. Receiving everything as pure gift, it has nothing to give in response, save affection and love.
Such, Byrne goes on to say is the case with the Kingdom of God proclaimed by Christ. Expressing something so familiar to those of us with an Ignatian spirituality who pray with the Contemplation on Gods love that ends Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, he observes: “It is God’s unmerited, unearnable gift, calling simply for a response of grateful love.”
That is the quality of children we are encouraged to develop: the sense of all as pure gift, given to us out of God’s love.