From Pastor Brady
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:1-4.
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. Matthew 18:15
In his book The Social Animal, David Brooks points out that 96% of millennials agreed with this statement: “I am certain that one day I will get to where I want to be in life.” He goes on to say that in the 1950’s a similar question was asked and only 12% agreed.
Brooks connects our happiness to our status: as we achieve status, we also become more happy. This “pursuit of happiness” is obviously not a new idea- it’s been around since at least 1776, and we have a whole country rooted in this concept.
This is what was happening in Matthew 18. The Disciples were in pursuit of status. They looked forward to a future status or circumstance change that would bring them more happiness. Look at Matthew 18:1-4 again. “Who will be greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” they ask. They are not too different from the Millenials of today- “I am certain that I can get to where I want to be.” But lest we throw Millenials under the bus alone, don’t we all live this way? Don’t we all look to status as a source of happiness?
Jesus came to bring an “Upside Down Kingdom.” One where the pursuit of happiness never produces happiness and especially not through the pursuit of a higher status. You see our projected statuses (ie: one day I will be ___, or I will be happy when I achieve ___) are not grounded in reality. We project into the future a source of happiness that is not real.
For example, we fantasize about the new job or new house. We think buying a new purse or dress will change our happiness level, when we get done with school, or when we have kids, or when the kids move out, or when my candidate wins the election…THEN I can be happy. Then my status will change. But we are rooting our happiness in a non-reality. When the dream comes true it never really satisfies and just give birth to a new projected status or what psychologists call “impact bias.” This becomes an endless cycle for us. Never truly producing satisfaction or contentment.
In Matthew 18:4 Jesus tells us to adopt a status that is rooted in reality. Our actual status is that of a child- which is to say, our status is low. Very low.
Don’t Pollyanna this verse into Jesus telling us to have the purity of a child, or the innocence of a child or even the faith of a child. Jesus is not telling us to act like children, think like children, or relate to each other like children relate to each other. We have all seen how kids act and relate…enough said. He is asking us to relate to each other as children in his day would have related to adults- in great humility and respect.
Jesus is telling us to go through life understanding of our actual status. A status of humility. One of deference to others. One of servitude. We are our brother’s keeper. We are children of God. We are being asked by God to go lower still. To incarnate into the lives of others. To lead through slavery. Never seeking my rights and privileges.
Life is not about a pursuit of happiness through status change. Life is about finding joy and peace in my low status. My humility- graciously given to me by God so as to unite my heart to the heart of my Child-like King. My King who made himself of no reputation but took on the form of a servant. Who now is greatest in the kingdom BECAUSE he was least.
When we adopt this mindset, this humble status of a child, then we are ready to go to our brother or sister and confront sin. Only then. Going from a position of superiority will only result in the loss of your brother or sister. But going from humility might just bring reconciliation- which is the reason Jesus died.