Jesus told his disciples they would never enter the kingdom of heaven unless they became like children.
Why did he say this? As recorded in Matthew 18, Jesus was responding to a question that revealed the disciples’ competitiveness and pride: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
What point was Jesus making? He was saying true greatness doesn’t seek honor: “Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
And then he added what sounds like an afterthought, because it doesn’t seem to relate to humility: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
How can we do this?
Reading Bible stories to children is one of the best ways to welcome a child in Jesus’ name.
This welcome is an invitation that lays the foundation for becoming a follower of Jesus.
The adult reader benefits, too, by seeing a story in a new way: like a child. It might even lead to becoming “humble like this child.”
In a time when faith formation needs a boost after the pandemic interrupted church-based Christian education, there’s a new resource for Anabaptist families: The Peace Table: A Storybook Bible, published by Herald Press and Brethren Press.
With sensitively chosen words and multicultural art, it improves the genre of Bibles for children.
For me, it brings back memories of sharing Bible stories as a child and as a parent.
In the early 1970s, my mother read Egermeier’s Bible Story Book to me and my siblings, just as her parents had read it to her (it was first published in 1922). We had the 1963 edition, “illustrated entirely with full-page pictures in full color” (though the white skin tones are less than fully colorful). The 568-page text is comprehensive — devoting, for example, 56 pages to the section on “Joshua and the Judges,” including “Because Achan Stole” and “Samson Angers the Philistines.”
I dusted off Egermeier’s to read to my own daughters in the late 1990s and early 2000s. When the Anabaptist publisher Good Books came out with The Bible for Children in 2002, we used that one, too.
Both of those volumes contain more stories than The Peace Table. But the types of stories its editors chose — favoring stories of peace — are far more important than the quantity (though I wished David slaying Goliath and the destruction of Jericho’s walls with trumpet blasts had made the cut). A prime example of a peaceful story both older books omitted is “Abigail’s Idea” from 1 Samuel 25, where Abigail convinces David not to fight Nabal, and David commends her wisdom.
Because issues of justice are not just for adults, The Peace Table points out that “480 years after God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, King Solomon enslaved people to build a holy temple for God.” The irony will not be lost on adults, even if children might need it to be pointed out. Egermeier’s and The Bible for Children simply say thousands of “workers” built the temple.
Does Song of Songs have a message for children? Yes, if framed age-appropriately. The two older volumes skip it, but The Peace Table offers “A Love Song” that isn’t sexual. The text begins, “I am Black, and I am beautiful” — unlike older Bible translations that set dark skin and beauty in opposition: “Dark am I, yet lovely” (1:5, New International Version). The text concludes: “Love is as strong as death, as powerful as a fire’s flame. No flood can drown love,” paraphrasing 8:6-7 — a profound, poetic thought for a person of any age.
“A love song” is just one example of The Peace Table’s recognition that Scripture speaks to children in genres other than story. There’s a “Song for Traveling” from Psalm 121 (“I lift my eyes to the hills . . . God will not fall asleep but will always watch over you”); “Lift the Valleys” from Isaiah 40 (“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. This hard time will end!”); “All Are Welcome” from James 1 (“What good are words without actions?”); and many more.
The blessing that comes from adults and children experiencing Scripture together fits Jesus’ idea of welcoming children and even becoming like them.