The Kingdom of God Comes to Us As a Child

I was reading Luke 18 today and I came to the famous text about the kingdom of God and little children:
Luke 18.15-18
Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
Translations tend to support the traditional interpretation of this text. That interpretation tends to focus on the qualities of children.

For example, in 18.16 the kingdom of God "belongs" to "such as these," the children. That idea is unpacked in the next sentence, that we become "such as these"--like children--when we come to "receive the kingdom of God like a child."

We've all heard this interpretation. We must "become like children" to in order to receive the kingdom of God. The focus is upon the internal dispositions and attitudes of children. We have to replicate the internal spiritual posture of children.

This line of interpretation sets up the next question pastors like to ask us: "So, what are children like? What about children are we being asked to emulate?"

Unfortunately, the text doesn't say. So we are left to speculate. Are we to imitate a child's trust or faith or humility or some other characteristic? A lively discussion then ensures.

But I'd like to come at this text a bit differently.

Specifically, there is something about focusing upon the internal qualities of children that seems to miss whole point of what triggered the conversation in Luke 18 in the first place.

When you look at the story in Luke 18 the issue of "receiving" the kingdom wasn't about blocking impulses in our hearts, it was about blocking bodies, actual persons. Children were being brought to Jesus and the disciples blocked the children. Jesus says, "Do not block them, let them come for such is the kingdom of God."

The Greek word translated as "belong" in 18.16 in many translations is simply the Greek word for is. Thus the verse can be read as, "for such is the kingdom of God." That is, when you receive the bodies of these children you are receiving the kingdom of God.  The issue isn't about becoming like a child, the issue is about hospitality, about welcoming marginalized and excluded bodies.

In Luke 18 "receiving" the kingdom of God isn't a psychological event. "Receiving" the kingdom of God is a political event, making room for excluded bodies in our midst.

This line of argument also recasts the interpretation of 18.17. Rather than "like a child" the Greek can read "as a child." We must receive the kingdom not like a child, but as a child, as an actual, physical child.

This interpretation fits better with what triggered the whole teaching in Luke 18. The disciples were blocking and excluding children. Jesus rebukes them and says, when you receive these children you receive the kingdom.

As a parallel teaching see Luke 9.48: "Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me." 

Jesus isn't telling the disciples to become like children, Jesus is asking his followers to receive children, to make room for the bodies they have excluded.

Because when they do they welcome the kingdom in their midst.

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