Serving the High Plains

You must become small to be great

One day, the disciples asked Jesus who was the greatest in the kingdom. These were motivated dudes, after all, wanting to know how to advance, how to climb that ladder. Jesus pointed to a child and told them to become like that.

Some preachers have turned this text into a “How To Be Saved” sort of story. They think the disciples were asking about entrance to the kingdom, not status within it. So, the evangelistic answer is that we must have a so-called childlike faith.

They don’t consider this in light of places where Jesus recommends a lot of serious, sober consideration of what it means to follow him. The goal of biblical faith is not to become children. It’s maturity. There is no place in Scripture where people are urged to be childlike in their faith. They are constantly told that their immaturity is a problem, and they need to grow up.

Their question was not, Lord, how may we enter your kingdom? The question was, Lord, who is the greatest in the kingdom? They were prone to having these types of discussions among themselves. The mother of James and John even got involved once, advocating for the status of her sons.

This time, his answer surely baffled them: he pointed at a child. Become like this. Not so that you become immature and naive, much less gullibly willing to believe things without evidence or reason. No.

Become like this lowliest member of society. Become like this one, who has no power over anyone. Become despised, not glorified. Be humble, not exalted. Be small, not great.

This child can’t physically force anyone to do anything. It can’t force obedience from others. It has exactly zero executive control over anyone.

Of course, anyone who’s had children knows they quickly figure out ways of manipulating people, so they get what they want. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Jesus was not recommending that sort of thing.

He was talking about status, and the power that comes with being great. The child was an object lesson against that. It was a lesson in conflict with the whole history of executive power.

Executive power may be defined as the ability to force people to conform to your will. You can have it naturally, by showing up as the biggest, scariest guy around. Or, you can get it from an organization that supplies you with a title or position that allows you to wield the organization’s authority.

In the ancient Roman empire, children were so unimportant, they were non-persons. They were throw-away people: it was legal to leave babies out to die of exposure or as prey to dogs, for instance. King Herod slaughtered a whole host of infants in Bethlehem without any injury to his career.

“How can I be great, Lord?”

Christ points at a small child and says, “Become this.”

Stop seeking position and power. Jesus would further illustrate this, as in my last column, by taking up a towel and basin and doing the job of a household slave for all of them. Shortly after that, he would humble himself to the point of death for them.

This is greatness in the kingdom. It’s not fancy, but it’s real.

Gordan Runyan is the pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Tucumcari. Contact him at:

[email protected]