Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Jesus and Children (Mark 10:13-16)

Today we are going to look at how Jesus acted towards and taught about children.

1.     Importance of Children

There was something about Jesus that made parents want to bring their children to him. It was common for devout Jewish mothers to bring their children to a revered rabbi for a blessing. So at the very least, these people acknowledged that Jesus was an honourable teacher. But there was likely to be a bigger reason than this … something about Jesus’ openness to people, especially the powerless.

Imagine how these parents felt when the disciples blocked their path! Jesus had just taught his disciples about not being a “stumbling block” to others, and here they are being precisely that – a ‘barrier’ that gets in the way. We shall come back to this. The Gospels are very honest about the disciples … the fact that they often didn’t get it. But we should note that the purpose of this honesty about these disciples, is for the reader to look deep into themselves.

The disciples would have argued no doubt that Jesus was busy, and his time and energy were in great demand. However sometimes we have to assess priorities with good clarity. In days gone by, people used to say that children should be seen and not heard, and such like. Adults have first call on the air space. But the way in which Jesus speaks about children is surely contrary to this. All children are of the highest value (and they need to be heard). Whatever our agendas are as adults, we should take into account our high level of accountability for how well the children in our networks are nurtured.

Do we ever repress the excitement of children because this is too inconvenient? Can we be ‘kill-joys’? Can we miss potentially special moments? Can we paint very rigid (or even grim) views of God? It is very important that all children leave church gatherings with a keen sense that God loves them, and that God’s people love them too.

We can hark back here to the verse in the previous chapter (9:42). If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.

A “stumbling block” is a hindrance, a barrier, or a hurdle – that someone might trip over. In this context such a “stumbling block” is both unnecessary and inappropriate. Such “stumbling blocks” disrupt growth and obstruct faith. The context of this verse certainly allows us to see “little ones” as referring especially to children. So, how is it that the church, generally speaking, has at times been so inattentive to this? We know that evil people can go about quietly doing evil things, but how can it ever be justified to cover this over?!? Well, it can never be justified; and segments of the church have rightly taken some heat! Repentance is required!

But then the governments of all persuasions have to look at themselves as well. What “stumbling blocks” are still being erected between children and their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being? Right throughout the whole Bible, God’s people are taught and challenged to look after, with priority, the most vulnerable. A change of direction is required!

The ethical and spiritual health of a society can be assessed in terms of how well we treat the most vulnerable and powerless – the elderly, the unwell, the disadvantaged, AND THE CHILDREN. And we should look beyond our own borders to the children of the world – where continual cutbacks in foreign aid literally cost lives.

What other “stumbling blocks” may we put up that become barriers to children experiencing God’s love? Lack of forgiveness, lack of care, lack of patience, lack of tolerance, lack of understanding, lack of listening, lack of guidance, lack of boundary-setting; or an inability to control anger? A change of heart may be required!

For those who place “stumbling blocks” before “little ones”, there is a harsh judgement; one that would be worse than having a huge heavy stone hung around the neck on the way to being thrown into the sea. I think the treatment of children is being taken seriously here (in the Bible)!!

So of course, Jesus, rightly annoyed and offended, said to his disciples, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them”. And there’s more! “… Do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs”. Children are the natural and rightful recipients of all God’s blessing. And within such children we can detect the image of God in which they were created. [Refer also Genesis 1:27; Psalm 139:13-14]

Let us not get in their way, hold them back, or push them away. So the opposite to being a ‘hindrance’ or ‘barrier’, would be to welcome children, just as Jesus did here. Jesus wanted to hold and bless every one of them, for each was very valuable. With each new child, there is an opportunity of a better world!

2.     Welcoming Children

For this more on this we can also go back to 9:36-37. Then Jesus took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me”. Welcoming others, in this case, children, is the way in which we can welcome God into our lives. Or to put this another way, to lack in welcome, hinders God wholly welcoming us. This is because, if we look at the context, we can be too interested in our own desires, to be fully open to others. We need to have an attitude of servanthood, rather than an attitude of privilege. In the society to which Jesus spoke, this would have been a big stretch; for children were not held in high regard and were afforded no particular honour – culturally speaking, serving them would never bring any prestige … to welcome unknown children (rather than the rich and famous) would normally bring no honour. But Jesus has a different view … quite the opposite – to welcome and serve powerless children, actually welcomes the most powerful dynamic imaginable into your life.

So, what are some ways of being ‘welcoming’??
·        Children should be fully appreciated, shown warm acceptance and loving consideration, encouraged, given wise training and a place to belong. Their readiness to comply with the wishes of their parents is related to their perception of whether they are receiving unconditional love.
·        Children need to be listened to, in an attempt to discover their personalities and interests, rather than having things imposed on them. Children need to be afforded patience. It is in this way that any discipline that needs applying, will be done in the right way and in the best interests of the child.
·        Praying for our children.

3.     Children as Example

In verse 15, Jesus holds children up as an example of how we can be ready to enter the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is the realm in which people live according to God’s will and purposes. What is it about children that make them naturals for the Kingdom of God? What is it about children that we can emulate?? What characteristics or qualities do they reveal???

·        Innocence – pure, unspoiled; for adults who have made mistakes leading to feelings of guilt and shame, seeking and receiving forgiveness is the return path to innocence.
·        Spontaneity – excitement, enthusiasm; when I see a puddle of mud I step around it … I see muddy shoes and dirty carpet – kids see a mud puddle and sit in it … they see dams to build, rivers to cross and worms to play with! Adults can easily become tired, over-stretched or tied up in knots. Connected with this is …
·        Unclutteredness – being empty-handed, freedom; adults can be weighed down by possessions or the continual pursuit of things, generally carrying too much baggage. Adults often have to declutter their lives before it’s too late – deal with things that are holding them captive.
·        Dependence – having no feelings of self-sufficiency; adults tend to want to do their own thing, run their own race, make their own decisions, rely on their own abilities, be accountable to as few people as possible, try to limit responsibility … be independent. Children best reveal that we all remain interdependent – we have been created as social creatures who need each other and primarily need God. Connected with this is …
·        Simple trust – a natural response to the love and welcome of others, a seeking for love; unfortunately many adults have lost the ability to trust because life (i.e. people) has brought some hard knocks, they have felt let-down in relationships, or been used and abused. The discovery of a completely faithful God who suffers with the suffering is the pathway back to trust.
·        Openness to learn – inquisitive, receptive; rather than the adult who thinks they know it all. Knowing our need and ‘humility’ leads us to God.

When all the complexity of adolescence and adulthood impacts us, we may need to recapture some of the characteristics of a child (if we are to effectively respond to God’s invitation into His Kingdom).

So as Jesus took those children up into his arms that day and blessed them, he is also offering us a blessing as well. Jesus did more that day than even those parents asked of him. They wanted Jesus to just touch their children … give them a little high-five. Jesus took them up in his arms, each one of them, embraced them, and gave them his blessing. This is actually what he wants to do for all of us. But to receive this blessing, we sometimes need to return to being as uncluttered, trusting and receptive as children.

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