Entry into the City, John August Swanson, 1990.
Tuesday of Holy Week 2017
“People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’”
Swanson’s painting captures this truth with the gaggle of children he has positioned nearest to Jesus. Boys and girls waving their palms are conspicuous by the position the artist gives them. It is they, perhaps, among all the people gathered to this moment, who give Jesus the truest and purest welcome to Jerusalem. “Truly I tell you,” Jesus says, “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
Why? Because they matter to him. In a world where children didn’t matter all that much to most adults and whose wishes and desires were often ignored and brushed aside, even by Jesus’ own followers, these social nobodies found an hospitable welcome with him. Imperial politics and the threat of Jewish revolt butted heads at festival time. Important, adult things consumed everyone’s attention. Jesus had his own unfathomable struggle with God and Satan in the offing. Yet, in the midst of it all, he had time and regard for those who had nothing to offer him or enhance his interests. The children. The children. Yes, the children.
Somehow these no-accounts sensed they counted with Jesus. And they came to him. And he welcomed them. In all their no-accountedness. And this how they enter the kingdom of God.
Nothing has changed since then either. It’s in our no-accountedness that we meet Jesus and enter the kingdom. Like children.
Well, some things have changed, actually. It’s not with us. We still tend to operate on our accountedness and ignore those who have little or none. Same old same old. And Jesus still welcomes into his kingdom those who comes to him in their need for welcome and hospitality.
What has changed is Jesus’ followers no longer seem to care or have time to welcome and provide hospitality for the no-accounts of our world. All sorts of thing clamor for the attention and energy of those who account themselves of some standing. Adult things. Politics, economics, family, and so on. All those things that make us count. The more we count, though, the less regard we have for those that don’t it seems.
The children no longer come to us. The poor expect no welcome and succor at our doors. Sexual minorities fear to see us coming. Non-white people know they are not welcome in our sanctuaries. The Jesus we portray shoos the children away because he has bigger fish to fry.
“Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”