How do we receive Christ? For Catholics, it happens at the mass: eating Christ’s body is receiving him. For Baptists, it’s the moment of personal decision: inviting Christ into my heart is receiving him. For Jesus:
Matthew 18 5 Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me. (ESV)
Okay, that’ll mess up our theology. 🙂 What was Jesus saying?
Jesus was calling us into life under his kingship, where power is inverted. Receiving Christ (i.e. God’s anointed ruler) is expressed in receiving people who don’t inherently have recognition, protection, and support. How we treat minors is no minor theme: our king says that if we don’t adopt this lifestyle, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (18:2).
Every community has a pecking order, from a henyard in Galilee to the Senate in Rome. The strongest get the upper hand. The fittest survive.
But this natural order breaks down when it comes to Jesus. He expected to be dumped like garbage, killed as a criminal (16:20; 17:22). The disciples can’t imagine how the world can function like that. If the king is at the bottom of the heap, who’s at the top?
Matthew 18:1 (original translation, compare NIV)
That’s when Jesus’ students came and asked, “So, who is the greater in the heaven’s kingdom?”
In most societies (including church), we curry favour with powerful people, because they can benefit us most. But if we weren’t seeking self-advancement — if we were seeking to advance the community — it would make much more sense to enrich those who don’t have social capital.
The powerful can take care of themselves. We’d be a much richer community if we focused our energies on the people who need recognition, protection and support. This is Jesus’ vision of society on earth, as a kingdom of heaven:
Matthew 18 2 Jesus called a child over and raised her up among them. 3 He said, “I’m telling you the truth, unless you turn back the clock and become like children, there’s no way into heavens’ kingdom. 4 The one who will take a lowly position — like this child — this is the greater person in heaven’s kingdom. 5 Anyone who, as my representative, receives one such child is receiving me.
See what Jesus did here? The verbs are intentional:
- He called a child (gender not specified in Greek). The crowd focused on Jesus may not have noticed the children, but Jesus raised up the child before the community (18:2).
- He asked the village to turn and become the child (18:3). Not just turn and see; turn and be!
- He asked them to step down to the child’s level (18:4).
- He asked them to receive his kingship (his name) by doing as he did — receiving the people who don’t have social capital (18:5).
What do you think it meant to that child when the most popular guy in Galilee held her up in front of everyone?
Children are not major decision makers in society, they’re minors. Not self-sufficient, they’re dependents. We don’t expect them to work for the family budget or the national economy. They have no political power, no vote. They’re cared for just because people love them.
The king says this is the model for his kingdom, for society under his leadership. Stop crawling to the powerful; just love powerless people. How simple is that? And how utterly transformative!
Since Christ means anointed ruler, we receive Christ by entering community under the king appointed by heaven for us. This is no optional extra: the church exists to model what it means to receive Christ as our global leader.
There is no other way to enter life as the society heaven intends earth to be, as a kingdom of heaven. Let earth receive her king!
What others are saying
Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 674:
“Receive” (δέξηται) involves welcome, loving reception, and acceptance. Hagner takes it especially of hospitality shown to disciples in missionary work (cf. 10:42), but more likely it is intended of community life in general. A good example would be Rom 14:1–15:13, where Jewish and Gentile Christians in conflict are told to accept one another. This is to be done “in my name,” i.e., as part of his community and under his authority (cf. 7:22; 10:22; 18:20; 19:29; 24:5, 9; 28:19). To do so is to receive Jesus himself and to experience his blessing. Since Jesus is one with each of his followers, the one showing mercy experiences Christ’s presence in the one they are helping.