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Let the Children come
Children were brought to Jesus that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked them, but Jesus said, "Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." After he placed his hands on them, he went away. (Mt. 19:13-15)
Nestled between the account of the Lord's response to the Pharisees who tested Him concerning the indissolubility of marriage and apostolic celibacy (Mt. 19:3-12) and the story of the young man whom he called to His service who, because he was possessed by his possessions, went away sad (Mt. 19:16-22,) Matthew inserts this beautiful encounter between Jesus and the children.
The connection is of great importance to anyone who wants to know, love and serve the Lord in real freedom. In the chapter which precedes the account, Matthew records these words of the Lord, "I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."
In fact, the way of spiritual childhood is a theme woven throughout the New Testament. In John's first letter he writes, "See what love the father has given us that we should be called children of God, and so we are." (1 John 3:1) This passage unfolds the truth of our divine filiation - a fundamental teaching of the Christian faith. In and through Jesus Christ, we become sons and daughters of God. When Jesus taught us to pray, He told us to call God "Abba" (Mt. 6:9), the affectionate Aramaic word for Father. Before he ascended, He told Mary to return and tell His brothers "I am ascending to my Father and your Father." (Jn. 20:17)
To become like little children - to be child-like and not childish - requires a change of heart. That is what conversion is truly all about. Such a change of heart will transform the way we live and teach us the way of love. The great Bishop, St. Ambrose, who baptized Augustine, along with his son Adeodatus, on the Easter Vigil in 387, wrote concerning this in a commentary on Luke's Gospel (Lk. 18:17):
"Why is it that children are eligible for the kingdom of heaven? Perhaps it is because, ordinarily, there is no malice in them. They don't know how to lie. They don't lie to themselves. They have no desire for luxury. They aren't drawn to riches. They are uninterested in ambition. But the virtue herein lies, not in what they lack interest in, or know nothing about, but in what they don't want to do. The virtue lies not in their inability to sin, but in their unwillingness to sin."