At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. (Matt. 18:1-2)
“I tell you the truth, unless you change..."It is not surprising that Jesus was asked who was the greatest in heaven. This is a typical concern among those of us living in the physical world. We all want to be the greatest. We all want to be king. We all want to dominate and rule over others. We all want to be loved by everyone and praised. This, precisely, is our disease: We want to be like God.
Those of us living within temporary physical bodies are in fact doing so because we have this disease. We have the disease of enviousness of the Supreme Being. At some point, each of us rejected our position as one of His servants and decided to direct our love towards ourselves. This produced our envy of the Supreme Being.
In other words, we saw God getting all the attention. We saw God in control. We saw that God has the admiration and praise of others. We wanted to have those things.
This is precisely the symbolism of the apple and the tree of knowledge discussed in Genesis. Because we became envious of the Supreme Being, we wanted to have the knowledge of what it was like being the ruler. We wanted the knowledge of what it was like being in control. To be master instead of our natural position of loving servant:
[the serpent said] "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:5)And later, after Adam ate the fruit:
[God said] "The man has now become like one of Us, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:22)What is "knowing good and evil?" Actually, this is slightly mistranslated. The two Hebrew words are טוב (towb) and רע (ra`) - which have a closer meaning of "pleasure" and "pain."
The concept of self-centeredness lends to pleasure and pain because these are related to seeking ones own satisfaction - rather than the satisfaction of the Supreme Being - our innate position.
The Supreme Being and His expansions ("Us" above) innately experience pleasure and pain - but those who love and serve Him do not experience this separately because their pleasure is based upon the Supreme Being's pleasure.
Once we became self-centered, we were no longer suitable for the humble loving relationships of the spiritual world (as Jesus describes, "like little children").
So God gave us this physical body and this physical dimension where we could seek out our self-centered happiness:
The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21)
Did the Supreme Being go out and make fur coats for Adam and Eve or something? Don't be ridiculous. This is a symbolic story of how we all fell to the physical world. These "garments of skin" are our physical bodies.
Here in this physical dimension, within these physical bodies, we can forget the Supreme Being exists. We can go about trying to get pleasure for ourselves. We can try to dominate and rule over others. Here we can find our own little niche and have others praise us as being great. Here, we can assemble our own little "kingdom" where we rule the roost. This might be our house and family members, or perhaps we are the boss of a little office of people. And if nothing else, we can get a pet or two and be their king.
Or perhaps we even become famous as an actor or politician, and we can rule over many others or have many fans.
In some way, we get to develop our little kingdom where we try to rule over and/or be respected and praised by others. Even unsuccessful people get to find some kind of group we can have the illusion of control over, even if it is simply a couple of pets or some children.
We can go pretty far here pretending that we are the greatest. This, in fact, is what most of the self-help gurus teach us: They want us to think: "I am the greatest. The world revolves around me. I can do whatever I want."
These are all the illusions of someone who is jealous of God’s control. These are the desires of someone that wants to be in God’s position. The only problem is that we are not in control. We are not in God's position. We do not really rule over others. We might think we are ruling over others or someone, but we can never really control others. This is because those we are trying to control also want control. They might pretend they respect us, but really they are thinking they are in control, as they manipulate us with their feigned expressions and false words of respect. In other words, we are all in the illusion that we somehow are in control of own little domain.
In reality, none of us really has any control. We cannot control the weather. We cannot control our environment. While we try to manipulate others, we cannot really control them, because they will always have the freedom to at least think as they wish. Even oppressive governments cannot totally control their people, though they may try pretty hard. At some point, the people begin to get out of hand. And even if the dictator or emperor remains in power throughout his lifetime of 60-75 years, the dictator will still be subject to disease, old age, and finally death. So even a great emperor such as Constantine or Napoleon never gained complete control, despite their thirst for it. They only had a temporary illusion of control.
The only control we have is the freedom to choose whether we want to serve God or serve ourselves. And if we choose to serve ourselves, we end up serving the physical body and the forms of the physical world.
"... and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."A young child is an example of someone who is obviously not in control. An innocent child will typically be completely dependent upon his or her parents. Theoretically, they have yet to be able to truly exercise their desires for control because their bodies are too small. So they typically are somewhat humble, innocent and trusting. Jesus is comparing this to the attitude one must have to enter the spiritual realm.
The spiritual world is a dimension where its inhabitants are completely in awe of the Supreme Being and humble before each other. They are meek, humble, courteous, respectful, gracious, and fun-loving.
Many imagine God to be a burning bush, a thunderous voice or even a void. These are not accurate. The Supreme Being is actually the Most Wonderful Person. He is the most loving. He is the most giving. He is the most playful. He is courteous and gracious. He is perfectly worthy of everyone’s praise and attention, because He is in fact, the Supreme Person. He is, in fact, the Greatest.
Therefore, those in the spiritual kingdom spend their lives focused upon serving, pleasing and playing with the Supreme Being. In the spiritual world, each person is focused upon their specific relationships with God and with God’s other children. These relationships are not void or boring. They are complex and fun, and always blissful. About the closest we can come to in comparison within the physical world would be watching very young children play - unless of course they are fighting as some do.
"Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."Jesus is pointing to a specific child who was very meek and humble.
We can not enter into this spiritual world with an attitude of wanting to be the center. We cannot take into the spiritual world an attitude of self-centeredness. With such an attitude, we simply cannot relate with others. It would be like a bull in a china shop.
We might compare this to an adult trying to enter into a game that a group of small children are playing. The adult just would not fit in. The adult would be not only too big physically, but they likely could not relate well with the game or the children. The adult would probably over-emphasize the rules and the scoring system to enable someone to win, while the children would likely not care who scored the most points. The children want to just ‘play.’
This example is not perfect. Children often attempt to manipulate their parents to get what they want. Children are also self-centered. Also, our society does not have the same kind of controls that the culture during Jesus’ time likely had with regards to respecting elders. Therefore, it is probably safe to say that the child that Jesus had stand before the group as he talked was better behaved and humbled than many of the children in modern society.
While we have this disease of wanting control, each of us is, deep within, naturally meek. This is evidenced by the respect we tend to give to those who act humbly, and the disdain we give those who act proudly. This is because within, we relate with being humble.
The ultimate act of humility of course is love. This is actually Jesus' primary instruction:
" 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38)
(For a translation of Jesus' statements from the Book of Matthew without institutional sectarian influence, see the Gospels of Jesus - translated from the original Greek texts.)