Then he said to them, "Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For whoever is least among you all is the greatest."
The disciples are arguing over which one of them is the greatest. I've often wondered "greatest at what"? Following Jesus? Obeying His teachings? Healing the afflicted in His name? Providing food and shelter for the entourage? I envision this confrontation as devolving into a finger-pointing, in your face, "my dad can beat up your dad", scenario when Jesus picks up a little child, place him in His lap, and proceeds to quell the conflict with the words recorded in Luke 9:48 above.
Children are the "least of these" not in terms of value, but in terms of power. They are born helpless and needy and they depend wholly upon parents and family for love, guidance, and nurturing as they grow. They are innately innocent, filled with wonder at the world around them, and implicitly trust in those who care for them and protect them. Is it any surprise, then, that Jesus would later state in Luke 18:16 that the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these?
In their pride and politics, the disciples failed to remember that all they are and have is because the Heavenly Father has blessed them. When we acknowledge that we are helpless, needy, and dependent upon the grace and love of God, that is the paradoxical moment when His unsurpassed power shines in and through us. We truly are the greatest when we are the least.
Psalms: 87, 90, 136