Pride, parenthood and possessions
The two passages in today’s reading are connected by a single issue: pride. It’s a problem that’s addressed repeatedly in the Gospels. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ first words were “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The opposite of spiritual poverty is secular pride; self-sufficiency leaves no room for God.
In the first story, the disciples seem to regard children as a waste of Jesus’ time – “as if they knew their Master’s mind in this matter” (Matthew Henry). Amazingly, Jesus had rebuked them only a few verses previously for arguing over who was the greatest!
Instead of being proud, Jesus requires us to “receive the kingdom of God like a child.” When we come to Jesus with a childlike faith, we throw aside all pretension and simply trust that He is a good, loving God. We accept His arms as a child accepts her Dad’s embrace. And just as Jesus welcomes us in, so we should welcome children into our church family with great joy and without hindrance, putting their needs above our own.
It’s also worth noting that the children were brought to Jesus to be blessed – presumably by their parents. It’s a challenge to us: what are we doing to actively bring our children into the presence of God? We have an important responsibility in this area, both as parents and as a part of the wider church family.
In the second story, the rich man’s pride and self-sufficiency prevents him from inheriting eternal life. Jesus says “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
Various theories abound as to what Jesus meant. Some argue that there was a gate in Jerusalem called the Needle Gate, through which camels could only pass by stripping off their luggage. However, there’s no evidence to show that such a gate ever existed. Others argue that the Greek word for cable/rope (kamilos) has been mistranslated as camel (kamelos). However, it’s most likely that Jesus was simply using hyperbole to make His point. There’s no way that the rich man could enter God’s kingdom when his true god is either his money, or his self.
According to John Piper, “God gave us a self, not so that we would have something to exalt in, but something to exalt with.” It was far too easy for the disciples to get puffed-up about their own status as Jesus’ disciples, to think that it was by merit that they’d been chosen. It was also far too easy for the rich man to think that he’d been granted riches as a result of obeying the Ten Commandments (or at least, some of them). But it’s by grace we have been saved (Ephesians 2:8-9), by faith, by approaching Jesus, childlike and poor in spirit.
As it says in the wonderful hymn, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly trust in Jesus’ name.” Amen!