At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
–St. Matthew 18
The Liturgy of the Word has been drawing our minds to consider the innocence of children. Several times in the Gospels, Jesus draws a child to him to illustrate the relationship between God and humanity: his fatherly love for us his beloved children. He desires for us to childlike, living in our home which is the kingdom of heaven; he never planned that we would leave home so he shows us how to return home by becoming childlike in our faith. Jesus said:
“Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”
Jesus was teaching that childlike trust is a requisite to a spirit of gratitude. Can you imagine a young child saying to her father, “I’m better off fending for myself–I don’t need you to provide food, shelter, or protection for me. I’ll figure things out for myself.” No, children trust their needs will be met by their parents–they don’t even give it a second thought. A child will come to the dinner table without a thought to how the food was grown or from where the food came. A child doesn’t examine her plate, wondering if she can trust that the food is good for her. She just eats! When we aren’t childlike, we make life so complicated because we mistrust our Heavenly Father; therefore, we take on motivations, doubts, and behaviors that lead us away from home with our Heavenly Father. Do you find yourself doing that, friend? Running helter-skelter after whatever we think we need. Our Heavenly Father stands at the threshold of our home with his arms laden with every provision we could ever need.
Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms….
I’ve folded my arms around my children and grandchildren many times, embracing them with all the love I had for them. If a threat were to come at them, you bet I held them close to me while I used my other arm to protect and defend them. The threat may have been as simple as a sibling wanting to tickle them, or the threat may have been a real and present danger. The posture of Jesus here as he takes the child in his arms is an icon of our Heavenly Father’s love for us–his everlasting arms enfolding us and drawing us into his protection. We read of the LORD’s right arm protecting his children in the Old Testament; protection from others as well as circumstances. What’s his other arm doing? He is holding us to him as our Protector and Defender! Our Heavenly Father is the perfect father; his arms do not grow weary. Consider Isaiah’s words:
“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
A child trusts in her parents’ attention to her; the idea that she has to earn their love or she’ll be thrown out of the house and forgotten by her parent never enters her mind. Her parents are biased toward her; she is flesh of their flesh, bone of their bone; they will move heaven and earth for her. Likewise, our Heavenly Father doesn’t love us for what is in us, what we do and don’t do. No, he loves us for what is in him because we are his flesh and bone, the image of himself. He did move heaven and earth for us! His love is extravagant, without limit.
Do you know that the word extravagant is another word for prodigal? With this in mind, let’s consider the parable of the Prodigal Father and Sons. The extravagant rebellion of the younger son didn’t decrease the extravagant love his father had for him. As St. Luke puts it,
“…while he (the prodigal son) was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.”
Consider the older brother who didn’t rebel against his father, but he was extravagant in his hard effort to impress his father. All the son’s effort couldn’t increase the extravagant love his father had for him. The father says to him,
“Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”
Friends, we are the beloved children of the Everlasting Father! He has called us by name, and as Isaiah puts it, our name is written on the palm of his hand. This image comes from an ancient tradition; people would have the name of their tribe tattooed on their hands. People lifted their arms in greeting so that they could reveal who they belonged to; they, in turn, could identify the other as friend or foe, which could mean life or death if you were alone on the backside of a desert. Isaiah used this tradition to remind the children of God that they were protected by God, no matter where they were. It is the same for us today–all we need to do is be childlike and remember to whom we belong.
Pray with me a portion of The Litany of the Childlike.
Jesus, grant me…
…Trust in Your Father’s providential care for me.
…Trust in Your desire and ability to heal me
…Trust that your Holy Spirit is constantly guiding me
…Simplicity of heart.
…Tranquility, confidence, and the peace that only You can give.
…A heart full of gratitude.
…The conviction that my worth comes from being the Father’s child and not from what I do.
…The conviction that I am known and I am loved.
…The conviction that You have a plan that is just for me.
…The conviction that you delight in me.
…The humility to see myself as You see me.
…The freedom to try and fail.
…The grace to run to you in times of temptation.
…The grace to immediately turn back to You when I sin.
…The grace to share with You everything that is on my heart.
…The grace to rest in Your loving arms.
Jesus, make me so childlike so that I can receive everything from you.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be.