When you know you’ve got it you’ve lost it — Matthew 18:1–7

Humility and trust — part 1

40 blogs of Lent — day 34

Years and years ago, one of the music papers, probably Sounds, held polls where they asked bass players to name three songs with the best bass playing on, or ask keyboard players for songs with the best keyboard playing on. Guitarist Ted Nugent was the only one to choose his own songs. I don’t blame Nugent, some professionals never miss an opportunity to plug their own work.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!

Matthew 18:1–7 ESV UK

This is the start of a new section in Matthew’s Gospel. The long narrative section about Jesus ministry switching from a Jewish element to the Gentiles being included leading up to Jesus starting to teach about his death and resurrection is over. In the next narrative section Jesus and the disciples will start to make their way down to Jerusalem, but first there is a short section on Jesus’ teaching.

There is a joke that a Sunday school teacher once asked her class what animal has a bushy tail, lives in a tree and eats nuts? A girl answered, “Miss, I know the answer is Jesus, but it sure sounds like a squirrel.”

The answer to Sunday School questions is always Jesus. If you were to ask a Sunday School class who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, the answer would be Jesus, even if you asked Christian adults, they would probably say Jesus too. When the disciples asked this same question, Jesus could have said, “Me,” and he’d be right. But that is not what he did. Instead he gave them an extended lesson in humility.

It is said humility, ‘When you know you’ve got it you’ve lost it.’ Nobody took Charles Dickens’ character Uriah Heep as being sincere when he he said, “I am very ‘umble Mr Copperfield.” When the disciples were asking “Who is the greatest,” they were hoping Jesus would point to one of them. Instead they got a child.

Another saying about humility goes, “True humility is not thinking meanly of oneself; it is simply not thinking of oneself at all.” While I disagree, who wold volunteer for anything if we never think of ourselves, self loathing is not a sign of humility, the sign is that we are realistic, seeing ourselves as we are. Putting others above ourselves is not the humility that God is after, God is after us loving other people as we love ourselves. We are all human.

Having a wrong attitude about ourselves, whether we put ourselves above or below other people affects our unity. Luke tells us that the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest. That they even asked the question about who was the greatest shows that they were not humble. Instead of saying be like me Jesus demonstrates how to live by showing a child.

Children trust, says the sermon I have heard many times. But when Jesus spoke about trust it was open and obvious, but it is not in this text. It is hard to see that being even implicit in the text. Jesus is speaking about humility, So he takes a child, someone with very little life experience. Jesus shocked the disciples when they asked him who was the greatest. He grabbed hold of the most insignificant, the weakest, the most ignorant person in the room and said, “This is what the greatest person looks like.” The opposite of what they expecting, then, while the disciples were still reeling in shock, he said, “You must be like this.”

That is what we should be striving for. Not to become the strongest, but to become the weakest. To become the greatest in the kingdom of heaven we have to become the servant of all.

But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Matthew 20:26–28

Are you willing to aim at being a servant?

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