“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Jesus)
When Jesus talks about some people not entering heaven, some of us feel repulsed. We are tired of intolerance of any kind, but especially intolerance done in God’s name. Jesus just sounds like one more bigoted religious figure power hungry to create barriers between persons. Too many of us have known this kind of pain. And yet, have you ever noticed that if someone comes to your house . . .you wouldn’t let that person just throw your dishes to the ground or taunt you or mistreat your children in some way or ridicule your spouse? Why is this?
Though you want the person to visit as your guest, and though you invited him or her personally, you still require a certain way that a guest must relate to you and to others in your home. You require respectful gratitude along with an assumed willingness to guard what is dear to you, not because you are mean, but because you desire to protect and enable your family and your visitor to flourish.
Have you noticed that our public schools down the road feel the same? The school welcomes everyone. No one in the district is turned away. And yet, if a student or teacher begins to threaten others, even a tolerant school has categories and policies for suspension and expulsion. Why? Because when that kind of neighbor-misuse grows rampant we set necessary boundaries and have to turn people away.
Does our having categories for suspension and expulsion make us intolerant families or schools? No. Why then, do we believe that if God sets boundaries so that his kingdom and its inhabitants are related to properly, that He is necessarily intolerant? What if, instead, God is merely doing what sanity requires for the sake of all involved?
What if Jesus isn’t like us at all?
What if Jesus isn’t “keeping people out” and “letting others in” out of meanness, hatred, bigotry, spite or personal preference and dislike? We do this of course. In the name of being tolerant we are prone to bully those whose views differ from our own. We can misguidedly show partiality and separate ourselves from those we don’t personally like. Maybe this is why we project these motives onto Jesus, because such selfish motives party so freely within our own hearts.
But what if Jesus isn’t like us at all? What if he has invited all who are weary and heavy laden, regardless of nation, tribe, language, ethnicity. personal temperament or political party to come to his Father’s house for safe rest, nourishment of soul, and home-coming ? But we, when we arrive at his place, begin to disregard the food, slander his Father and other guests, throw the dishes in tantrum, and take up with fists against who Jesus is and content ourselves with ridiculing what He says true love and a good life, is and isn’t?
That he would not allow us to enter his home again unless our soul posture had changed toward him, toward his father, his guests and what is true as he offers it, would just make sense wouldn’t it? I’m thinking I would do the same if you slandered my children, smashed our dishes and gave me the middle finger because of what I believed while at the table that my wife and I prepared for you. Out of desire to protect those dearest to me and the home I’ve cultivated, I think I would require a change in posture too before you visited again. Not in terms of my desire to love you should you need a cup of cold water on a hot day. Though who am I kidding? I know I wouldn’t bear with my guests as patiently and as graciously, with gentle invitation and honest conversation, as Jesus would. Unlike me, multiple offenses he would bear up with, giving time and room at his own cost to the tantrum thrower. Giving them room at his own pain, so that he or she can grow attentive to what neighbor regard and love for his father, in his own house actually looks like. But finally, for the sake of those who are victimized, he would eventually say, as he did on the cross, “enough” it is finished. Something must change in us. His home is open but not in our present condition. We can’t change ourselves but He can.
The Grace of Becoming Like a Child
To become like a child we will have to set aside our delight in acting childish with him, his guests and his willing provisions for us. Tantrum and folly, violence and mood, sin and lovelessness for God and persons, must melt into child like reception with awe, curious gladness, ready trust, delight to play, and the joy of giving thanks for feeling safe and regarded. Imagine the gratitude for being delivered from the bully who would want to do you harm as you sit at Jesus’s table. Because he calls that bully to a new posture of soul, because he talks about being like a child or not entering his kingdom, the others at the table are defended and that includes me and you. He calls us to come and to say, “I’m sorry. I was out of line. Please forgive me.” He welcomes us. No “I told you so’s.” Just forgiveness without regret and the door open to come freely to his table again.
What if this isn’t intolerance at all? What if it is common sense, grace, hospitable welcome? The thing that love would do?