But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. Mark 10: 14-16 NRSV
“A child bears changes a man would not tolerate.“ Jean Jacques Rousseau, Philosopher (1712-1778)
Some years ago my family and I chaperoned a youth mission trip to Tijuana, Mexico. There we built a small house for the poorest of the poor.
It’s not easy for someone who is used to all the luxuries of living in the U.S. to adjust to the circumstances we encountered. There was no running water, canalization or electricity in the slum where we worked. It was dusty, dry and very hot. Countless stray dogs and children roamed the dirt roads.
My son was 6 years old back then. He quickly came to the conclusion, ‚It’s not much fun being a Mexican.‘ Of course what he meant was that he couldn’t imagine how people living in such dire poverty could have fun or experience joy.
But then he adjusted very quickly. While the youth and their chaperones focused on building the house, my son forged friendships with the Mexican kids in the slum. Soccer is an international language – and the children spend many hours kicking around a ball that had seen better days. My son picked up Spanish words rapidly and taught his friends some English. He also smuggled some cereal bars and other U.S. snacks from our hostel to the building site, which he then shared with the others. Needless to say, he quickly became a part of the kids’ community.
My son’s openness and flexibility surprised me. I had a much harder time adjusting to the environment in Tijuana. But children are much more tolerant concerning changing circumstances, as Rousseau already observed. Right now, there are about 60 million refugees on this planet, people who had to leave their homes because of war, strife or natural disasters. More than half of those refugees are children. And children usually adjust more quickly to their new environments in the countries, which offer refuge and asylum. On the other hand, children in the host countries tend to be more accepting of and less prejudiced about strangers. As grown-ups, we tend to be much more guarded and insecure and have a much harder time anything that we experience as unfamiliar.
It seems that children don’t only grow physically, but that there is still much room for their souls and hearts to expand as well. Children are just not as ‘finished and done’ as many adults are and have a greater ability to encounter anything new with curiosity rather than suspicion.
There has been much speculation about the meaning of Jesus‘ words, ‚Let the little children come to me…whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ Maybe it is the case that the kingdom of God belongs to the children because they are much more open for anything new and surprises than many grown-ups. As adults, we often tend to be too caught up in our opinions, judgments and prejudices as if we could embrace the unimaginable and unexpected.
Don’t we all have our expectations about how the kingdom of God should be – whom we expect to meet there, and whom we rather not encounter there? Don’t we often already judge who deserves to be part of God’s kingdom and who doesn’t? Are we really open for God’s vision and work among us, a vision that is so much larger and much more merciful than we can even imagine, something that God envisions to be possible already in the here and now as it grows among us?
To become and be a child of God doesn’t mean we are supposed to be childish – but I sometimes wonder if God doesn’t envision for us to re-learn the openness and curiosity it takes to embrace God’s vast and amazing vision for all creation.
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