A small portion of today’s lectionary becomes our central message. Mark 10: 13-16 presents a response from Jesus that’s all about children. “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15).
Jesus wasn’t saying that only children can obtain salvation. Also, we don’t know the age of the children that Jesus encountered in Mark’s passage. Whatever their ages, the issue is that there is something about being like a child that Jesus elevated. We don’t know precisely what Jesus was thinking, but we know that childhood can be described in two major ways. On the one hand, we hear statements like “stop acting like a child” or “stop being so childish.” Variations of these negative statements get to the same point, namely that aspects of childhood involve immaturity, selfishness, and temper-tantrums. On the other hand, we praise children for their innocence, joy, and openness. It is these latter characteristics Jesus praised (more on this later).
As described in today’s verses, Jesus’ followers tried to dissuade children from coming to him. You can almost hear the anger in Jesus’ words as he warns his disciples: “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” (Mark 10:14). Jesus’ words are strong, and they have a tone of warning and admonition. This is a case where the Son of God instructs all of us about embracing children. It is rare throughout history for any great religious teacher to single-out children for special, positive treatment. Yet Jesus does just that, and in a way that dramatizes his love and compassion.
The old saw “children should be seen and not heard” is not good advice in light of what Jesus said. The sense that kids are bothersome, annoying, and intrusive has dominated descriptions of childhood. God’s view is different, such that children are precious, and their care and nurturing central to what God wants. We’re also facing the fact that kids are difficult to handle. The challenges of raising a child reveal that parenting isn’t for the squeamish (all the more so given the rigors of adolescence). Nonetheless, children’s dependence on us and the energy they require makes raising them one of life’s splendid ordeals. Successful parenting requires that we make sacrifices so that our children benefit from our love and care (similar to the way God loves and cares for all of us).
Now, back to those child-like qualities to which Jesus seemed to be referring. Children’s yearning for love and affection come to mind as do their unbridled joy and exuberance. Kids’ energetic, welcoming spirit often contrasts with adults’ jaded skepticism. We often see in children a color-blind acceptance that doesn’t get hung-up on appearance, what political party we support, or many other issues that contribute to some adults’ prejudicial, hard mindset.
A child is undeniably immature in many ways, yet Jesus cited qualities in them that we adults should cultivate. There’s much riding on our views about children. If we dismiss children and the admirable aspects of their approach to life then we endanger our souls. When it comes to spiritual health, we have much to learn from our kids. No matter our age, let’s encourage one another to be growing, yearning, receiving and sharing love and to do so with joy and enthusiasm. Those are qualities that we needn’t outgrow. Roll back the calendar and revisit your childhood—in a good way.