Jesus has different ideas from most people about what makes people great, or helps them to recognise the Kingdom.
Matthew contrasts children with a rich young man. The disciples have tried to keep the children from bothering Jesus; they don’t seem to have tried to stand in the way of the young man. But Jesus is happy to receive both of them. In fact, he tells the disciples that the children are the more natural citizens of God’s Kingdom, from whom they have something to learn.
He doesn’t compare the two, but when the devout and rich young man comes to ask what he must do to inherit eternal life, his struggle with the answer shows how acute is Jesus’ call to him – to leave the security of his wealth, give it away to those who need it and follow Jesus.
Children can have a simple focus on the immediate, an unfiltered sense of wonder at the world; they depend on others for most of what they need, and accept it with varying degrees of thankfulness, but hopefully without insisting on earning it for themselves.
The more we have built our own security with wealth, status and so on, the harder it becomes to accept a worldview founded on the grace of a loving and generous God. The young man’s ‘many possessions’ are in the way of his receiving and rejoicing in the love of God who is not influenced by any of them. His undoubtedly genuine faith may benefit him and those around him in many ways, but it is not bringing him the joy of free discipleship.
The disciples are amazed at Jesus’ teaching on wealth and greatness, and this comes out in their reaction to Jesus’ conversation with John & James’ over-ambitious mother. Their anger at her attempt to get the most senior posts in Jesus’ Kingdom for her sons just shows that they haven’t understood what it means to be great. When Jesus does in fact enter into his kingdom on the Cross, the places at his right and left will not be comfortable ones.
The parable of the workers in the vineyard lays the foundation for Jesus’ teaching on service, achievement and grace. We answer when God calls. He receives our service without counting the hours, but rewards generously whether we have served for a lifetime of a moment. All is gift. Nothing is earned.
It leaves me with a continuing question about simplicity in life and faith. Do I possess my possessions, or do my possessions possess me?