Our daughter is 19 months old, and today she spent half an hour in our kitchen, squeezing herself into and out of a box meant to hold clementine oranges. All four sides of the packaging around her were emblazoned with the clementine brand name: Cuties. Appropriate.
“Mama, howp,” came the request whenever her little feet became stuck in the corners.
She is enthralled by soapy bubbles in the kitchen sink, by the recycling truck’s weekly visits, and by the multicolored twinkle lights our neighbors strung along their front porch last night. Falling rain produces more excitement in her than any little body could contain. She gets agitated about the vacuum, keeping her distance and keeping aware. When her fingertips get wrinkly after a warm bath, it baffles her that she can’t lick the creases away.
Reading today’s portion from Luke 18, the first thought that came to mind was her look of sheer wonderment yesterday at bedtime, when together we peered over the half-curtain in her bedroom to see those Christmas lights.
“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Luke 18:17
There was so much awe and thrill in her eyes. Her jaw was slack from one end to the other. Muted twinkles reflected off the curves of her cheeks.
She didn’t want to even acknowledge her crib. Not her PJ’s. Not the blinds as they closed in front of us. “Wites,” she kept saying, pointing back toward the window.
This is the sort of “like a child” reference point that many of us connect with Luke 18. We read Jesus’ words and hear him telling us to be people who marvel at what is grand. We hear him telling us to jump around with (un-adultlike) glee. We hear a call to stop restricting ourselves in serious, subdued, grownup ways.
But this is not what the text is telling us. At least, this is certainly not the crux of the point.
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.” (Luke 18:15-17, ESV)
They were bringing infants, it says. Walking, gleeful, uncontained toddlers are not mentioned. The accurate picture is screaming babies. Squirming babies. Sleeping babies. Hungry babies. With spit-up on their faces, and with first-century diapers probably leaking everywhere. The smallest and most helpless humans around, ones without the proper muscle development required to lift their own heads. Brephosis the original Greek—it’s the same word 1 Peter 2 uses in talking about those who long for pure milk. Brephos—a good translation is babe, newborn, even fetus—is the context within which Jesus teaches his disciples to receive the kingdom.
The message here is not that we don’t marvel enough. It’s not that we aren’t free enough with our praise or that with added years we allow faith to become more complicated than is necessary. The problem Jesus is identifying here is not that people lose their childlike innocence, but that we lose sight of our infant-like helplessness.
We are self-reliant, we think. We are strong, we think. We are kind, informed, well-meaning, and mostly good. We think. Of course we are not needy or weak. Not cruel-hearted, clueless, spiteful, and filled to the brim with sin. Not desperately in need of a rescuer, a Savior. Of course not that.
We accomplish things. We manage. We get along just fine, thank you.
Yet it was necessary for this God to became not only man but brephos for us. We in our sinfulness were so helpless that we required the drastic step of a perfect redeemer making himself defenseless in our place. It is astonishing: he lowered himself to the level of human infancy in order to become a fitting substitute for humanity—that way, when he bled for us, his blood could stand in our blood’s place.
Our sin owes God a death, but the debt has been fully paid. And now, when God looks at us, what he sees is not our sin but the blood of the One who forever takes it away. He sees on us the righteousness won by Christ, who—because we are too feeble and powerless to even attempt getting there on our own—has carried us to himself.
We should marvel at him, yes. We should be jubilant out of our minds about him, yes. He is, as John writes, the true light that gives light to all the world (John 1:9.) But the reason his light shines on us and illuminates us so well is because we are cradled like babes in his nail-scarred arms.
This post originally appeared on PickYourPortion.com