"I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. —Matthew 18:3
Every once in a while, I come across a statement Jesus made that completely confounds and exasperates me. His declaration that we must become as little children in order to enter into God’s kingdom is one of these maddening statements.
In my pride and American self-sufficiency, all my life has been spent casting off childlike characteristics. Now Jesus tells me that my effort is driving me away from the kingdom of heaven, and I’m not sure how to deal with this idea.
One of the most obvious characteristics of a child is his helplessness. A child truly cannot do anything for himself. His level of trust goes beyond any choice. He cannot exist on his own strength. The progression of becoming a man and an adult is to become independent and self-sufficient, but until that time, a child depends upon others to feed, clothe, bathe and nourish him. No other mammal is so completely vulnerable for such a length of time.
So now that I find myself a man, I can see clearly how deep my hatred of being an infant—of needing anyone—runs, because nothing in me wants to need other people. I do not make myself vulnerable, I avoid showing pain, I convince myself and others that I am sufficient. In my mind, I am a self-made man: I only have what I deserve and I only deserve something because I have worked for it.
Even in my close relationships, it’s difficult to admit I need fellowship and support. I cry in private, I battle through struggles alone, I don’t like other people to know that I’m weak and hurting—I try to give a tough, war-hardened exterior.
Two attitudes in particular are nonexistent in a child: pride and ingratitude. Pride can be evidenced by the hatred of the humility in needing anyone. Ingratitude says I don’t need anything, so what’s the use of someone giving me something of themselves?
Another un-childlike quality is the lack of trust. How many times have we heard, “I trust nobody, and nobody trusts me.” If I’m going to be independent, it is logical to conclude that I need to keep everyone at arm’s length.
Then Jesus tells me I need to become as a little child. More than a mere suggestion, He commands me to become as a little child if I want to enter the kingdom of God.
But I don’t want to be a child—I want to be a superhero.
What do I think about Jesus? Really—what do I expect of Him? What do I want? Many times, if I’m honest with myself, I want a hero figure. I want a Hollywood action hero. I subconsciously wonder why Jesus isn’t more like Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly—a silent, detached loner with a deadly shot. Or He could be like Arnold Schwartzenegger in Terminator 2—a muscular, devoted, funny guy. Wouldn’t Jesus be more impressive if He could kick butt like Russell Crowe in Gladiator?
I admire the traits these “heroes” give us, and I wish Jesus could be like them. The thing that bothers me about Jesus is that He avoided this type of persona. The gospels go to great lengths to establish that Jesus is NOT this type of hero figure. Instead, He’s a person who was delighted to see children come running to Him. He enjoyed spending time in the company of women, had no earthly possessions and never established a physical kingdom. He ministered to the poor, the sick, the rejected of man.
I almost want Jesus to burst onto the human scene the way a champion boxer rushes down to the ring amid roars of approval. I want Him to glorify Himself in human terms—to destroy the enemy, reveal His power, and ride off into the sunset with the woman of His choice.
The Jews wanted this hero figure. The Messiah was to be a conqueror, a prince to crush the Roman empire with his power. They tried to crown Jesus, to confer upon Him the status of “hero.” Yet He refused to do these things and instead told people that He was meek and lowly of heart. So I look at my ideal of a hero and the person Jesus was and the question haunts me … am I embarrassed of Jesus Christ?
Those masculine qualities I admire so much: courage, resolution, power, forcefulness, taciturn strength—they all seem to be painted out of our artistic portrayals of Christ, and I find that I am embarrassed of Him.
But the thought came to me that in history, the men who have best displayed those qualities possessed them without the counterbalance that Christ had. Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini—these men possessed strength, drive and passion. And look at the terror they provided for mankind.
Maybe we cannot be conquered by power, but only through love, and it takes a child to understand this.
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