Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Have you ever attended a birthday party or a Christmas party where there is a toddler getting presents? Often, if you give them a wrapped gift, they will be pleased with and start playing with the wrapped present. It is a brightly colored object with ribbons, and it is interesting for those reasons. You must unwrap the present for them, and they might be troubled that you a destroying a pretty thing. They may be pleased when you bring out the gift that had been wrapped up, but they still may want to play with the ribbons and wrapping paper because it is colorful and interesting.
Of course by the time they are two years old, they can’t get the package opened quickly enough. When the children get bigger they are not in such a hurry, because they have guessed what you are giving them. Older children know the kind of presents that different family members will give, and they will hardly care to open a gift from the aunt that always gives underwear or the brother that gives you the things that he would like to have.
When people get older, expectations get higher and disappointments can become tedious. We still get excited when somebody loves a gift we have given them. We also find ourselves happy to get something more than we expected.
By the time, we are adults with a little bit of discretionary income (or a credit card), we are in the habit of getting what we want without waiting for gifts. At that point, when asked about a gift idea, people will say “How about you give me a nice card with some money in it?”
Eventually, if we are fortunate to be gainfully employed, there is not a whole lot that we can’t earn. We may not be able to buy the car of our dreams, but we can pay for transport. We may not be able to buy luxury items, but we can be satisfied with what we have and what we can buy.
As we get older, many of us are not interested in receiving gifts because we take some joy in getting things on our own.
We still have a myth of the “self-made man” (or woman). It is an idea that you can earn things without any help from others. A few months back there was a billionaire (in a Democratic political debate) who suggested on national TV that he had earned billions of dollars without anyone’s help and that he deserved it. There seemed to be no understanding that he was wealthy because of the efforts of thousands of people who worked for him, and millions of people who had bought his products. It is barely possible these days to imagine that a single person’s efforts could single-handedly pay for the housing and feeding of their whole family, and here is a man who thinks he earned a billion dollars.
Just a reminder, a million dollars in hundred-dollar bills weighs about 17 pounds, but a billion dollars in hundred-dollar bills weighs more than 8 tons. You can’t amass that kind of wealth without the hard work (or victimization) of thousands of people. At minimum wage (in Minnesota) it would only take you 342 centuries to earn a billion dollars (at 8 hours per day). So, there are no self-made billionaires.
There are plenty of people who don’t like the idea of receiving charity and plenty who don’t think that people’s debts should be forgiven. There are even people who believe the only people who get to heaven are the ones who “earn it.” More than once, I have heard people say, “If I can’t get into heaven on my own merits, I don’t want to go there.”
But Jesus says something different:
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
Why did the disciples try to keep the children from getting to Jesus? Were they worried that it wasn’t dignified? Did they believe that Jesus’s time was too important to be wasted on children? Whatever the reasons, Jesus was “indignant” and scolded the disciples. Not only did he welcome the children, but he said that adults should be like them. Not childish, but child-like. Jesus goes so far to say that the kingdom of God belongs to them. And if we want to enter heaven, we need to “receive it” as a small child.
Just to be clear, small children don’t earn anything, but they are grateful for gifts. “Charity” is a word that can either mean “the virtue of sharing God’s love” or simply “God’s love.” There is no way of entering heaven by earning it. There is no way into heaven by refusing charity. You can be carried into heaven, but you cannot walk in on your own power.
Heaven comes to you as a beautiful gift that you need to receive. We need to be like little children who need something that they can’t make for themselves.
Questions to Ponder: What gifts has God given you today? What are you especially thankful for?