A reading from the gospel according to Matthew 18:1-5, 10
1 The disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?”
2 He called a child over, placed it in their midst,
3 and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.
4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.
5 And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.
10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”
Good News: Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Who is the greatest?
The disciples did the right thing in bringing to Jesus their question. When we have questions, we should first take it to the One who is knows it all. Yet in other parts of the gospels, it was mentioned that they argued who among themselves was the greatest. In other words, the disciples had the right question but they have the wrong motivation. They were competing with one another, jockeying for position in the kingdom. Each of them perhaps thought he has the qualification to be chosen as number 1 or in first place. This is human nature at work.
If humans were to answer the question, they would easily enumerate achievement, prestige, degrees, and possessions as the main criteria for greatness. And these are what many people dream of acquiring. Just like the disciples, people want to be number one in their chosen career. However, none of these human standards matter to Jesus.
Instead, to answer the question, Jesus brought forth a child and mentions humility as the main criterion for greatness in the Kingdom of God. To be humble like a child, we need to be converted, to have a new paradigm. We need to turn away from our propensity to compete with one another and focus on improving ourselves so that we change from our wicked ways and be transformed into the likeness of the Father which was our original nature.
To be humble like a child, we must regain our dependence on Divine Provision and Divine Protection. Man has tried and is always trying to be independent and self-sufficient. However, Jesus is teaching us to be like a child, aware of our own powerlessness and vulnerability. Like a child who is curious, Jesus is telling us to have the eagerness to learn from our Father in heaven. “Learn from me for I am meek and humble of hearts”, Jesus says in Matthew 11:29.
So we must learn from Jesus that humility is a sine qua non to greatness in His kingdom. It is therefore imperative that we purge our urge to be number one. In the end, those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted (Matthew 23:12).