Ash Wednesday, February 18. Matthew 18:1-9.
Would you like to be a child again? It is not uncommon for high school students and adults to say, “wouldn’t it be great to be a kid again. Not a care in the world.” Let’s face it. Kids in our country have it great. They start school later in the morning. They don’t have to work. They get everything catered to them. They have access to games, toys, and cartoons, just about any time they want. They are pretty innocent and carefree. And, if you mess with a child, there is a government agency completely dedicated to their protection. So, kids are pretty safe in our culture, especially if they are among the upper classes. Who wouldn’t want that, right?
So, when Jesus said, “Unless you become like a little child, you can never enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” was he telling us to become innocent and carefree? Perhaps, if he had been talking to people in our culture. But, I don’t think that is what he meant.
Things were very different for children in Jesus’ day. Back then, children were little more than property. The only people that really mattered in society were men who had money and power. There was a ranking in society. Rich and powerful men were on top, then men in general were below them, then women, then children, then the poor, then slaves and animals. So, if you were a boy child, the only worth you had was that some day you would grow up to be a man. If you were a girl child, then the only hope you had of being valuable was if you grew up to produce a boy for your husband.
So, what did Jesus mean when he said that, unless you become like a child, you can never enter the Kingdom of Heaven? The key word is in verse 4. Unless you humble yourself, and become like a child, you won’t have any part in this Kingdom Life that Jesus is bringing to the world.
Do you see how scandalous this was, especially for the men? Jesus asks us to give up all our rights, to empty ourselves. It makes sense, since he had just told the disciples to take up their cross, and the only way to really live was to die to the self.
Today is Ash Wednesday. It is the day that we allow ashes to be smeared onto our foreheads while these words are spoken, “remember that from dust you came and to dust you will return.” In light of today’s reading, perhaps we could also say, “remember that you are nothing more than a child.”
This could be depressing, unless you keep reading. This is where the Gospel happens. The Good News is that God loves children! It is only when you humble yourself and admit that you are dust, that you can actually receive the love of God and share that love of God with everyone else.
We have been washed clean in baptism. Mix that humbling water with our dust, and you could say that we’re just a bunch of kids playing around in the mud, while our Heavenly parent watches and smiles! Enjoy your mud pies today.