Have you ever led a line of children? Maybe you have taken kids from one classroom to the next or down the street to the playground. Or maybe you’ve watched others do it. There is an art to it. This is no militaristic endeavor, nor a free-for-all. It requires a firm, yet congenially coaxing, instructing, correcting, and encouraging hand. The gaggle will often march in tow joyfully, sometimes sullenly, or jealously, or even mischievously. This is the picture of Jesus with his disciples. He is leading them – these little ones – towards Jerusalem and towards the cross.
This section begins with a reminder of the mission of the cross; a distressing truth that continues to befuddle the disciples and make them anxious. But there is comfort too. It is strange comfort as it regards a tax. (a tax required by God’s law for the temple. See Ex. 30:12-14). Jesus pointed out that ultimately, as God’s Son, the tax was to him not from him, and nevertheless he paid the tax. He didn’t pay the tax just for himself, but for Peter as well. And he provided it through a miracle showing that in fact he was God’s son and the ultimate provider of redemption for his people; his father’s children.
But like children in a line, the disciples wanted to know who the line-leader was. Jesus in response to their query reminds them of the nature of the kingdom. He brings a child forward and says be like this little one. Humble yourself. Have that guileless wonder of a child. Trust in the goodness of your heavenly father, and follow me as I humbly obey my father. The first shall be last – this is the paradigm of the kingdom.
But as the line shuffles forward, Jesus says that it is not enough to be like a child, you must love the children. You must be the big brother or big sister and watch out for them. This is of course true for actual children under the disciples care, but it is also referring to those whom they will lead in the kingdom. Jesus is saying: “Don’t lead them astray! Your punishment will be worse than theirs…”,”Keep your eyes focused on the mission – stay in line; don’t be led into temptation yourself. I know there is so much fun to be had, but this is not our destination; this is not our home…”, “Do whatever it takes to avoid temptation…”
Finally, Jesus comes back to their role as the leaders of little ones. He tells them to run after the lost child at all cost. As Jesus led this scruffy group of disciples to Jerusalem, he was doing just that. At all costs he was going to save these children; children who bickered over who got to be line leader, children who would run away and abandon him. But he was going in order to save them. And he was going to save you and me. As the beloved Son of God, he followed his father’s command and humbled himself and became least. He was delivered into the hands of men to die in order that we might be called Sons of God. Why?? For love…
How are you leading others? Are you laying down your life in love? This is our Saviors way.