Faith Matters

Andrew Watson: Time for us all to become like little children

Every little child is precious, says Rev Andrew Watson

A 'Stand Up For Life' rally in Dublin on Saturday appealed for the retention of the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution ahead of the May 25 referendum. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire
Andrew Watson

THINGS don't really change that much.

Concerned about their rights and privileges, the disciples were sounding just like 21st century people as they argued over which of them was the most important and asked Christ, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"

Jesus set a young child in the middle of the group and, as Matthew 18 records, said: "Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."

Point well made, we might think. But Jesus isn't finished.

He underlines the value of children in God's eyes: "See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven."

The word he uses doesn't specify born or unborn, but emphasises their smallness, young age and vulnerability.

He then pictures a shepherd's concern for the one lost sheep over the 99 safe in the sheepfold and concludes: "Your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish." Each one is precious, deserving of reverence and protection.

Whether we profess religious faith or not, we need to consider the forthcoming referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment of the Republic's Constitution with extreme care, for this is an absolutely basic life and death, human rights issue.

One question worth asking is whether countries which have legalised abortion are becoming more compassionate, caring and safe societies.

It appears to me that if a society doesn't respect life at the beginning, it's unlikely to be respected at any stage.

The word Jesus uses doesn't specify born or unborn, but emphasises their smallness, young age and vulnerability 

If those of us who are supposed to be mature and responsible decide it is acceptable to kill children, how can we hope to enforce any law and order, or teach any standard of common decency? And who can hope to stay safe indefinitely?

In his famous 'I have a dream' speech in Washington in 1963, Martin Luther King loosely quoted the Old Testament prophet Amos, saying: "We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream."

The original prophecy is dated over seven centuries before Christ and contains scathing indictments of a society that paid lip service to their national religion but practised cruel abuse of the poor and vulnerable.

Instead of killing the vulnerable in our day, perhaps we need to examine our own culture that encourages unrestrained behaviour and, where necessary, repent.

The message of God's redeeming love in Jesus is 'good news' indeed - but only when we understand our guilt and the real possibility of judgement.

So maybe we need to stop kidding ourselves about how great we are. Maybe we need to reflect on Jesus' words to His proud disciples.

Maybe it's time to do as he says - time for us all to become like little children.

  • Rev Andrew Watson is minister of the Presbyterian congregations in Dunfanaghy and Carrigart in Co Donegal and blogs at He is the author of Finding Our Way Home: Prayers and Reflections for Our Journey in Christ, published by Veritas and on the suggested reading list for the World Meeting of Families in August.

Finding Our Way Home: Prayers and Reflections for Our Journey in Christ, by Andrew Watson, published by Veritas

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Faith Matters