The disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?” He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father. What is your opinion? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray? And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that did not stray. In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.”
For some reason, we often come upon the temptation in life to put a thing before a person. The temptation is unmasked easy enough if, for example, the good of a person stands against a material or economic good. Of course, the person's value is always greater. But sometimes the conflict involves immaterial “things”: ideas, principles, truths. It sometimes seems that, in order to adhere to these things, one must overrun persons. Defending ideas, applying principles, being true…
Today's Gospel gives a fascinating little inspiration to be taken into account in these matters. How do you treat a child?
More often than not, a child needs boundaries, correction, orientation. It would be careless to think that, in order to put the child before things, one must give in to every of his whims. On the other hand, only the most brutish would expect of a child to already adhere to all “things” correctly and, thus, overrun him by demanding that adherence with the utmost severity. The right way to treat children is a narrow line: neither laxity nor condescendence, neither carelessness nor impatience. Somewhere inside us, we all know instinctively how to take serious a child.
On a first glance, we would now argue that, what cannot be expected from a child, by definition can be expected from an adult. While this is probably true in one sense, Jesus turns this logic upside down in another. “Whoever humbles himself like this child will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
This paradigm allows us to see more in childlikeness than only immaturity. Each person can be considered a child in the right way, and therefore our inherent instinct to treat children with patience and tenderness can help us to treat our neighbors in the same way, especially when there seems to be a conflict with “something” and we wonder how to put the person first without neglecting our duty to the truth or a principle.
Above all, Jesus teaches us to recognize infinite value in each person. “See that you do not despise one of these little ones.” Each person is a unfathomable treasure. This is why Jesus, for whom we are all toddlers trying to do the right “things,” employs such infinite patience with us. During His earthly life, He would walk among all these toddlers, yet never show impatience or disdain. How much more must we be ready to walk the extra mile in adapting our strife to evangelize and to defend the truth to the often immature or amateuresque positions of our interlocutors without running them over. Another narrow line this, of course. But a loving heart will manage to walk it as steadily as it will find the right attitude before a child.