What does it mean to "receive the kingdom of God like a child"?
One day people bring children to Jesus to bless them. The disciples oppose them. Jesus is upset and instructs them to let the children come to him. Then he says to them: "Whoever does not accept the kingdom of God as a child will not get in" (Mark 10: 13-16).
It is good to remember that some time before, Jesus said to the same disciples: "You have been entrusted with the mystery of the Kingdom of God" (Mark 4:11). For the sake of God’s kingdom, they left everything and followed Jesus. You are looking for the presence of God, you want to be part of his kingdom. And now Jesus makes them understand that if they reject the children, they will shut the only door to the longed for Kingdom of God!
What does it mean to "receive the kingdom of God like a child"? Generally one reads: "Receiving the Kingdom of God as it receives a child". This corresponds to the word of Jesus in Matthew: "If you do not turn back and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18.3). A child trusts unobserved. It cannot live without trusting the people around it. His trust is not virtuous, but essential for survival. To meet God, we have nothing better than wanting to be loved by such a child’s heart, which opens involuntarily, simply dares to ask.
But you can read just as well: "Receive the Kingdom of God as you receive a child". Because the verb "to receive" generally means "to receive someone", as can be seen a few verses earlier, where Jesus speaks of "receiving a child" (Mark 9:37). In this case, Jesus compares the reception of a child with the reception of God’s presence. There is a secret correspondence between the kingdom of God and a child.
To receive a child means to receive a promise. A child grows and develops. The kingdom of God is never something perfect on earth, but promise, dynamic and always growing. In addition, the children are unpredictable. In the Gospel account, they arrive when they think of it, and the disciples obviously do not think this is the right moment. But Jesus attaches great importance to receiving them after they are there. So we have to accept the presence of God when it presents itself to us, whether it is convenient or inconvenient. You have to play the game. To receive the Kingdom of God as you receive a child means to watch and pray so that you can receive it when it is there, even unforeseen, and whether you think the time is right or not.
Why did Jesus turn to the children in particular??
One day the twelve disciples talk about who is the greatest among them (Mark 9: 33-37). Jesus guesses their thoughts and says to them an uncomfortable word that mixes up their criteria: "Whoever wants to be the first among you, be the last of all and the servant of all."
He follows his word with a gesture and takes a child. Is it a child he sees abandoned on a corner of Capernaum? He places it in the middle of the meeting of "future church leaders" and says to them: "Whoever receives a child like this in my name, welcomes me." Jesus identifies with the child he just took in his arms. He attaches importance to the fact that “a child like this” best represents him and that whoever accepts it has himself with him.
Shortly before that, Jesus said a puzzling word: “The Son of Man is being handed over to the hands of men” (Mark 9:31). “The Son of Man” is himself, and at the same time they are all human children, that is, all humans. The word of Jesus can be read: "People are at the mercy of their peers." Once arrested and tortured, it will prove once again that people do all sorts of things of their kind as long as you are defenseless. It is therefore not surprising that Jesus recognizes himself in the child whom He has placed in the center, because defenseless children are often at the mercy of people who have control over them.
Jesus especially turns to the children because he wants his people to take care of the helpless in the first place. Until the end of time, they are his governors on earth. What you do to them, you do Christ, Himself (Matthew 25:40). The “least” of his brothers, people who count little and who are treated arbitrarily because they have no power or influence are the way, the only way to live in communion with him.
This is also why Jesus places the child in the midst of his disciples so that they themselves consent to be minor. He explains it to them like this: "Whoever gives you even a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, Amen, I tell you: He will not lose his reward" (Mark, 9.41).
The apostles are “at the mercy of the hands of men” in the ways in which they will proclaim the kingdom of God in the future. They never know in advance how they will be received. But they are carriers of a presence of God, even for those who only serve them with a simple glass of fresh water without taking them particularly seriously.
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