Greatest in the kingdom of heaven

Farmville Enterprise February 20, 2019

Matthew, a Jewish tax collector also called Levi, uses five discourses of Jesus to structure and frame his gospel. In essence, he completes a retelling and fulfilling of the Old Testament. In Matthew 17 we read that Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a high mountain where he is transfigured. His face becomes bright like the sun and his clothes are white as light. Moses and Elijah appear with him.  In Mark 9 and Luke 9 we find a little detail recorded after this event. The disciples argue among themselves about which of them is or would be the greatest. Chapter 18, which begins the fourth of the five teaching segments in Matthew, takes up the question of the apostles.  “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 18:1-4)

Young children tend to be loving and accepting of others. They do not care about outward appearances, how people dress, what their connections are or how successful they are in the eyes of the world. They love those who show them love. The people do not have to be rich or powerful or accomplished. Childlike humility comes naturally to little ones because they are not focused on impressing others or making a name for themselves, a perspective that is quite refreshing.

Reading Matthew 19 we have to wonder how much the disciples learned from Jesus in the incident from the previous chapter. “Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.” (Matthew 19: 13-15) After Jesus’ interaction with the rich young man a few verses later he says, “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” (Matthew 19:30)

Sports fans have fun talking about who is the Greatest of All Time and this Super Bowl only added to the contention of many that Tom Brady is the G.O.A.T. for football or maybe even across all sports. Most of us enjoy reading or hearing about people who are terrific at what they do and those accounts can be inspiring. We should do everything to the best of our ability.  Ultimately, however, attitude and the way we treat others are much more important than our achievements. Pride can be a dangerous thing. Jesus said, “The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12)

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