Of Babies and Rulers

By Pamela Lewis

A Reading from the Gospel of Luke 18:15-30

15 People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. 16 But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 17 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.’” 21 He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 He replied, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.”

28 Then Peter said, “Look, we have left our homes and followed you.” 29 And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”


To Jesus, children are more than adorable little human beings who want to play with him. Like the poor, the disabled, and women, children are also the powerless and vulnerable among whom he is sent. Despite the rebuke of his disciples for allowing the children to come to him, Jesus counters with the startling claim that the kingdom of God is theirs, and they should therefore not be hindered. As he had declared that when people see him, they see the Father, when children see Jesus, they see the kingdom, because he embodies and exudes it. They receive the kingdom of God without vying for it, or by pretending they don’t need it. Because of their capacity to trust and love, Jesus extolls children as the kingdom’s model citizens.

In the rich ruler (in Matthew he is also described as “young”), Jesus encounters a man who seeks to “do” his way into eternal life. Given his confident — and correct — reply to Jesus’ question that obliges the ruler to walk through the Ten Commandments, he sees himself as a “good” man, who has done and said all of the right things. How can he lose?

Jesus’ intention in walking the ruler through the Law is not to make the ruler feel guilty; he walks him through the Law because he is guilty; the young man does not realize how far from “good” he actually is. What Jesus advises the ruler to do to inherit the eternal life he claims to seek is to undo the tight fetters his wealth has on him. This and the realization that it is not possible to inherit eternal life by the rules he thought he had mastered are what account for the ruler’s great sadness.

Jesus’ recommendation to the ruler is for everyone and for no one in particular, for we each have something we need to give away that stands between us and eternal life. But if we try to be like little children rather than rulers, maybe we can avoid the eye of the needle and go straight into the kingdom.

Pamela A. Lewis taught French for thirty years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, N.Y., she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New YorkerEpiscopal Journal, and The Living Church.

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