In our Gospel for this Sunday, we hear Jesus saying the following about entering the Kingdom of Heaven: “Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” (Mk 10:15) What does the Lord mean by accepting the Kingdom like a child? I recently read a commentary on this verse which I find very helpful in understanding this important statement from our Lord:
All are called to be “children” in relation to the kingdom. What is it about children that makes them such apt recipients of the kingdom? Children have no accomplishments with which to earn God’s favor, no status that makes them worthy. In their dependency they exemplify the only disposition that makes entrance into the kingdom possible: simply to receive it as a pure, unmerited gift.
Mary Healy, The Gospel of Mark, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008), 199.
As we begin this month of October, our theme for the month is our Vocation to Beatitude. Put another way, we are called (vocation) to be with God forever in the Kingdom of Heaven (Beatitude). As we progress through this year of catechesis, we will be hearing how we prepare for this gift by the way we live our lives, conforming them to the Commandments, the Beatitudes, and the teachings of Christ and His Church. But we must avoid falling into the trap of thinking that Heaven is something that we earn as a result of our good behavior. As the commentary above mentions, the Kingdom is a gift that is granted to God’s beloved children, and one that we should simply receive with humility and gratitude.
The question may be raised, then: Why do we put so much value on our actions? After all, if I cannot earn Heaven, why should I care about acting a certain way? The gift of the Kingdom is given to us already in this life on the day we were baptized, and this gift is meant to be protected so that we do not lose it. The teachings that our Lord and the Church give to us are directed toward that end, keeping safe the gift that we have, one that we did not earn, that of sharing in the life of Christ through the gift of grace (a word which means gift). Therefore our actions do matter, for by them, we freely choose to keep safe or reject this gift that the Lord has so generously blessed us with. Seen this way, our life in Christ is not so much about earning something as it is preserving and protecting something that has been given to us by no merit of our own.
Another aspect of being a child is the unconditional trust that children have in the love of their parents and their greatest fear is losing that love. Whatever the parents ask, the children heed because they do not doubt that the parents have their best interest at heart. So too for us with regard to our relationship to God our loving Father, and our holy Mother, the Church. As children, we are called to assent to their teachings, trusting that doing so is in our best interest, and that following those teachings we will experience true happiness and freedom as we remain in the love of God in this life and forever in the next. This is how we are called to be childlike in our obedience to the Lord. But we must always fight the temptation of falling into being childish, being rebellious and demanding our own way. With the graces the Lord offers to us freely in the sacraments, we can indeed live as the children He has called us to be, and so accept the Kingdom of God that He freely offers to us.