1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"
2 He called a little child, whom he placed among them. 3 And he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Therefore, whoever takes a humble place—becoming like this child—is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me
6 "If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! 8 If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
10-11 "See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. 12 "What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.
Thoughts: Today we take for granted that children and women sit with us in church, but in those days in worship women and children were isolated. In my father's generation the old saying was "children are to be seen and not heard." But Jesus had mercy on the weak and the helpless as he does on all of us. He lifted up children by saying that we must humble ourselves like little children. Perhaps he didn't explain how children are humble so we will begin to look for the benefits of children. He encouraged the welcoming of little children (which is in part why we allow them in church and baptize them in many denominations). He protected them by warning not to be harsh with them- saying it would be better that they be thrown into the sea if they did, and that their angels speak to the Father every day (thus the whole concept of guardian angels). Then he talked about why God cares for them- they are the sheep and He is the Shepherd.
One secondary lesson for us in the church today is to care for the sheep who wander off. That is, care for the weak, those who get upset, those who become inactive, those who wander in to the many heresies of our day. For conservative Christians this means caring for those who are on the left fringe. For those of the more liberal persuasion, it means caring for those they disagree with on the more conservative side. Why? Because God cares for them. Later Paul would say about one of the first controversies (eating meat sacrificed to idols) to care for the weaker brother.
Prayer: Give us a heart for people after your own heart, Lord. Help us to care for the weak, the helpless, the naive, the children.