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Gospel of Mark 10: 13-16 (NIV)
13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
We observe almost daily that the staff who work for the great and the powerful seem intent on keeping the “common people” away from the one in their charge. Was that what motivated the disciples, on this occasion, to rebuke the people who were bringing their children to Jesus?
Historians inform us that children were highly valued by the Jews. This was certainly the case in first century Judea. We may see a reference to the value placed on children in earlier times in Psalm 127: 4-5a:
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
While the blessing in Psalm 128:6, “May you live to see your children’s children – peace be on Israel”, wished long life on the one addressed it also asked of God that this person’s children would grow to maturity, find marriage partners and be blessed themselves with more than one child.
We are not told by Mark what was the age of those little children brought to Jesus. The Gospel according to Luke refers to babies or infants (Luke 18: 15) in which case it was probably their mothers who were bringing these little ones to him. Regardless of whether they were babies or children who could walk, whether they were brought to Jesus by mothers or by both parents, Jesus showed his characteristic loving care and concern for these ordinary people. He knew they all have equal value in the Father’s eyes and that value has nothing to do with economic worth or potential as a unit of productivity. The value of each human being is because each is made uniquely in the image of God (Genesis 1: 26).
It seems the disciples still did not understand this basic premise of Jesus. They had only recently been arguing about who was the greatest among them (Mark 9: 34). Jesus had then explained “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
In telling the disciples to, “Let the little children come to me”, Jesus wanted them to understand that the kingdom of God belongs not to the great and the powerful but to those who are willing to receive it in a simple and trusting way. He wants us to realise that too.
Let us pray:
your Son has taught us
that we must receive your sovereign rule like a little child:
help us to turn to you in faith and simplicity of heart,
so that we may receive your blessing
and enter the kingdom your Son has promised;
through the same Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen*.
* Collects, A Prayer Book for Australia, Broughton Books, Sydney, 1999.