In many versions of today’s passage, Jesus uses a word to describe children: “humble.” We often assume that humble means someone who is low in rank or of little importance. While that was certainly true of children in Jesus’ day (and in our own society), “humble” can also describe someone that is unpretentious, unassuming, and simple. Little children can certainly be described by these terms as well; they often do not have an overcomplicated view of the world and they rarely put on airs for others.
Unlike the Jewish religious leaders that believed they could get close to God through complicated rules, children came before Jesus simply and humbly. They had nothing to give or offer besides themselves. There was no pretense, there was no ostentatious displays of religious fanfare. The child in this passage was welcomed before Jesus just as she was, and those who become simple and humble as little children are to be considered the Greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. Truly, their simple humility was the heart of Jesus’ radical message: “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” (Matthew 19:30, NRSV).
When we come before Jesus, we too can be like that simple, humble, unpretentious child. We don’t have to have all the answers to life’s questions. We can bring our “big emotions” to Jesus—our deepest pains, our greatest joys, our hidden fears, our aching sorrows. We can come forward with our childlike hopes and dreams for the future. We can bring our full selves before Jesus because that is exactly what He wants.