1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 And He called a child to Himself and set him before them,
3 and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
5 “And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me;
6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea
7 “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!
It’s human nature to want to be good at something. This requires measurement against a standard or another person. As much as our society has tried to remove competition to keep little Johnny’s psyche from suffering the devastation of falling short, it still drives almost every effort. Solomon spotted this reality of life early on.
“I have seen that every labor and every skill which is done is the result of rivalry between a man and his neighbor. This too is vanity and striving after wind.” Ecclesiastes 4:4
For example, if you’re born shorter–me–the drive to compensate is acute. It may not be obvious on the surface, but one’s whole life is spent straining to get an angle, fighting against the upper hand. How else will I be great! It’s frustrating because the world is dominated by those who are 6’3″, who peer down with on us with intimidation from above. So I’m just telling you there’s a lot of conniving going on in the recesses of a short guy’s to find a way to crush the competition, against formidable odds.
This is not only true with the Napoleons of the world but in all walks. Everyone wants to be the greatest at something. Gamers, violinists, entrepreneurs, athletes, students, spellers, coaches, singers, politicians, bowlers, bloggers, preachers, and the list goes on. Figuratively, and sometimes literally, we all want to end up with our foot on someone else’s neck!
“When they brought these kings out to Joshua, Joshua called for all the men of Israel, and said to the chiefs of the men of war who had gone with him, ‘Come near, put your feet on the necks of these kings.’ So they came near and put their feet on their necks.” Joshua 10:24
So too, the disciples were discussing, perhaps arguing, about who would be the greatest in the kingdom to come. Jesus knew it and commenced teaching using a nearby child as his illustration. Most children I know, and we’ve had a few, and they’ve had a few, are dependent on their parents, and are dedicated to them, because they are the dispensers of all good things. Even the strong-willed kid will fall short eventually and need help. This is exactly the way it should be with our Lord. The reality is, we’ll never measure up. We’ll never go anywhere without his help. In fact, if in our right minds, we don’t even want to be great, but obedient. So we willingly and wisely defer to him. This is the key to greatness, our humiliation, but the good kind.
The “great” leaders of Jesus’ time lorded it over the people, placing obstacles in the way of “greatness.” How about the “rich young ruler” who could not separate himself from the things of the world–also stumbling blocks–and pulled up short of the kingdom.
Jesus has strong words for those who subtly place impediments in the way of simple childlike faith–i.e. your average TV preacher.