Concerned about their rights and privileges, the disciples were sounding just like 21st century people as they argued over which of them was the most important and asked Christ, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’
Jesus set a young child in the middle of the group and said, ‘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 v 1-4)
Point well made, we might think, but Jesus isn’t finished.
He underlines the value of children in God’s eyes with these words, ‘See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.’ (v 10-11) The word He uses doesn’t specify born or unborn, but emphasizes their smallness, young age and vulnerability.
He then pictures a shepherd’s concern for the one lost sheep over the ninety-nine safe in the sheepfold and concludes, ‘Your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.’ (v 14) Each one is precious, deserving of reverence and protection.
But if we disagree, if we say it’s all right in certain circumstances to kill children, where does that take us?
For many of us it’s a no-brainer really. Of course we want to respect and care for women, but not by killing children. How could it ever be morally defensible to kill an innocent child?
Whether we profess religious faith or not we need to consider the forthcoming Referendum in Ireland with extreme care, for this is an absolutely basic life and death, human rights issue. Make no mistake, there will be far-reaching consequences for us all!
A question everyone should consider is whether or not countries which have legalised abortion are becoming more compassionate, caring and safe societies?
Forgive me, but I’m thinking of the murders in greater London so far this year, the high school massacres in the US, the brutal child rape culture in India where, in some areas, girls are being terminated in favour of boys. The growing culture of sexual crime does not appear to be limited to socially deprived areas or groups. Eleven students were suspended from a top UK university recently for celebrating and threatening rape on social media.
It would appear if a society doesn’t respect life at the beginning, it’s unlikely to be respected at any stage. If those of us who are supposed to be mature and responsible decide it is acceptable to kill children, how can we hope to enforce any law and order, or teach any standard of common decency? And who can hope to stay safe indefinitely?
In his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech in Washington in 1963, Martin Luther King loosely quoted the Old Testament prophet Amos, saying, ‘We will not be satisfied ‘til justice flows down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.’
The original prophecy is dated over seven centuries before Christ and contains scathing indictments on a society that paid lip service to their national religion but practised cruel abuse of the poor and vulnerable. Amos warned that the Almighty was not impressed and people could expect to suffer unless they repented of the evils of their day. Instead of killing the vulnerable in our day, perhaps we need to examine a culture that encourages self-centred, irresponsible behaviour, and where necessary repent.
The message of God’s redeeming love in Jesus is ‘good news’ indeed, but only when we understand our guilt and the real possibility of judgement!
So maybe we need to stop kidding ourselves about how great we are. Maybe we need to reflect on Jesus’ words to His proud disciples.
Maybe it’s time to do as He says.
Time for us all to become like little children.