“A Blessing from Jesus”
Mark 10:13-16 – October 4, 2015
Who doesn’t love babies and small children? A small minority of people do not care for them, but by and large, babies and toddlers bring a smile to many people’s faces. Take social media, for example. Facebook, or Instagram, or Twitter. Do you want a lot of “likes” or “retweets?” Put up a photo or a picture of a darling baby or toddler, and watch how many people share or retweet your post.
We see, today, pictures of Jesus welcoming small children, even babies. Wonderful scenes! Darling, adorable, even touching pictures. However, I caution you—modern ideas of the innocence of children and the freedom we in 21st century America associate with young ones is not consistent with the first century understanding of children. But I’ll get back to that, later on.
This week’s sermon is a continuation of last week’s sermon. Last week—I’m reminded of my summer sermon series, which I compared to a radio serial. “When last we left Jesus, our intrepid hero—!” As I was saying, last week we talked about how much the disciples just didn’t understand the point Jesus was talking about.
In last week’s sermon, to make His point with the disciples, Jesus brought a small child into the middle of their group. Mark tells us that Jesus took the child into His arms. Then said, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes Me does not welcome Me but the One who sent Me.” Here, again, same story. The disciples are really dense. Very similar situation in this case, and they just don’t seem to understand what Jesus is saying.
Let me set the scene for today’s reading The Rabbi Jesus is teaching, as He so often does. He does not discriminate! He doesn’t only teach to men, but also to women. And the women, often being moms, grandmothers, aunts or older sisters, sometimes bring their children with them to the open-air teaching sessions.
I suspect that Jesus was one of those people who loved and cared about children. Was good with little ones. Can’t you imagine Jesus as being welcoming towards babies, toddlers, children, adolescents? All the kids! Just from His brief interactions with children in the Gospels, I get that feeling. And, I bet moms and grandmas could tell that about the Rabbi Jesus, too.
So, when women try to bring their children to the Rabbi Jesus for a blessing, what happens? Our reading from the Gospel of Mark says that the disciples rebuke those who are bringing the children to Jesus. As I looked at alternate translations, one had the disciples censuring the adults for trying to pester their Rabbi! That’s a strong expression of disapproval!
Hadn’t these guys learned anything from their recent discussion with Jesus? When Jesus brings a small child into the middle of the circle, lifts the child in His arms, and says, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name welcomes Me.” Are these men that dense? I guess they are, because in today’s reading Jesus gets really upset with them when He finds out that the disciples are turning parents and children away.
Now, I want everyone to think of our 21st century kind of warm, fuzzy, frolicking idea of childhood, the concept where every child is lifted up as an individual, special, unique and loved. Is everyone thinking of that idea? That idea is absolutely true. However, I have news for you: the first century had no such idea.
I’ll give you a snapshot of two competing but similar ideas from the first century. One, the Roman view. The father—and by that I mean the oldest brother in a family—was the top dog. He ruled the roost. He was the head of the whole extended family. That means younger brothers, and their wives, sisters, and any other dependents. Like elderly relatives, or babies, children, or young adolescents. He was the head of the family, or in Latin, the pater familias.
Children were on the very bottom of the ladder, socially and in terms of that culture. The pater familias could decide whether a baby or small child would be accepted into the family group! So, a baby, a child, did not have any standing in society. At all.
But Jesus and the disciples lived in Palestine. On top of the Greco-Roman culture, they also had Jewish culture to deal with. The Jewish concept of the patriarch was somewhat similar, but not exactly the same. Children were seen as a blessing from the Lord. But, again—the position of children was vulnerable. In both cases—the Greco-Roman culture as well as the Jewish culture, children were dependent, even disregarded. Children were very much counted among “the least of these,” that expression Jesus used in Matthew 25. The ignored of society, overlooked, left out, less than.
All very interesting, you might be thinking. But what has that to do with you and me, in the here and now?
What about these children? These little ones, the downtrodden of society, the overlooked? Jesus rebukes His disciples for their poor treatment of children! In essence, He tells them off! And then, Jesus welcomes the children to Him. I bet He even took them into His lap. Mark tells us He held them in His arms, certainly. And blessed them.
What about last week, when Pope Francis was here in the United States? What do you think parents and grandparents thought when the Pope—personally—blessed their children? I understand that Pope Francis has a special place in his heart for children and young people. I think Jesus did, too!
I have a further question. Does Jesus love only Jewish children? That’s who He was blessing, here in Mark. Do you think Jesus also loved Samaritan children? What about Greek children? Roman children? What about children from all over Africa? Or, from India? Or China or Mongolia? Or children from Gaul (now parts of France and Germany)? Or, across the ocean, indigenous American children? Or indigenous Australian children?
You remember the song “Jesus loves the little children, All the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” It does not matter what a person’s culture is, or social standing, or any other ranking system. Jesus still wants to embrace them, bless them, and welcome them. That goes for children as well as for adults. Multi-ethnic? Jesus welcomes you! Multi-cultural? Jesus welcomes you, too! No matter what, no matter where, no matter who.
A minister, who used to post to a sermon discussion group I sometimes look at, put up this entry a few years ago. “One of the greatest joys of my ministry is that I serve a church which welcomes children of all ages to the Table. It is so meaningful to serve children as their parents help them break off the bread and dip it in the cup. True communion, true welcoming. … As I invited people to come to the Table, I realized that no one had told me they would be helping me serve, so asked, “Who will help me serve today.” An 8 year old boy who was already up and ready to receive to communion, said, “I will” “Oh dear,” I thought, “what will people think if I have him serve?” I was sure most would be okay, but I thought some may take exception. But I realized there was no way I could refuse such an eager heartfelt offer. So he stood beside me and offered the bread. … I’m certain it was a meaningful experience for him— it certainly was for me. I realize that the “legalities” of some would have said no to his serving, but I know that our Lord said, “Let the little children come to me…”
Here’s a final thought. Jesus transforms children from their lowly, insignificant, disregarded state into wonderful examples for the disciples to follow. Jesus here tells us we all ought to approach Him in the same way as little children do. Wonderful examples for us adults to follow today, too.
When we come to worship, and when we come to communion, we are to come as little children. Trusting, dependent, vulnerable. We do not give ourselves grace and mercy. Instead, Jesus freely offers grace and mercy to all who come to Him. We can praise God for the boundless love and the radical grace extended to each of us, each day.