There's this strange scene in the Gospels where there just aren't quite enough details for us to figure out what it means. A lot of guessing and conjecture has gone into elaborating on what Jesus might have meant when He talked about this issue, but the truth is that most of it comes out of our current understanding and not out of a contextual understanding of the scene itself.
But maybe it can.
We're talking about the moment when Jesus calls a little child to come to Him, has the child stand among them, and declares that the goal is to become like this child. What does it mean to become like this child?
A lot has been said about the innocence of children, about how they are so simple in their understanding of the world. They don't harbor the same kind of baggage that we do as adults. They don't have the preconceived notions and the stereotypes and the previous negative experiences that corrupt them. They have a natural curiosity about things and aren't afraid to ask questions. They are always looking to grow into something, to become part of something bigger than they are. There seems to be no end to the things that we can say Jesus meant here based on our understanding of children and their hearts. (Because hey, we know that Jesus loved to speak about the heart.)
What if we're overcomplicating things, though? What if the answer we're looking for is right in front of our face?
One of the things we've done really well in our time is to complicate Scripture. We've tried to make it about all of these secret things that you have to understand to know what God is really talking about. We've made these verses into a series of dots that you have to be able to connect or else, you'll misinterpret them. This connects to that, which draws on that, and they both pull us back into such-and-such. And it cane make the Bible feel like a big, giant mystery to solve, and so of course, we've spent a lot of our time trying to figure out what it is about this child.
In my experience, the Bible just doesn't work this way. It's more straightforward than we want to give it credit for. It's more right-there-for-the-taking than it is hidden-behind-a-bush. Overwhelmingly, the Bible just tells us what it wants to say, so I don't really see why we keep thinking that some of the stories can't possibly be what they seem.
What about this one? What is this story trying to tell us? What does it mean to be like this child?
It could mean something as simple as - coming when Jesus calls and not feeling the need to perform.
Jesus was surrounded by men and women who wanted to show and prove who they were. They came when they had something to demonstrate, and their entire lives in front of Him was a bit of a performance. It took a long time to break down barriers so that they could be themselves, and many of them never got there. Look at some of the errors the disciples made and ask yourself if they could not have been for show. For trying to get it right. For trying to prove some kind of righteousness or faithfulness. Like how Peter is always quick to jump in and protect Jesus. Show-off.
This child, on the other hand, is called, comes, and stands there, letting Jesus do with him or her as He pleases. This child is willing to just be an example. To be used by Jesus to illustrate something He's deemed important in this moment. The child comes when called, draws near to the God who is calling him or her, and lets Jesus do the rest.
What if that's what it means to become like this little child?
Are you game?