In today’s Gospel, we read about a short scene, or pericope, in which people are bringing their children to Jesus to receive a blessing. The disciples step in to prevent this process from happening. The reason for their actions is not presented by the author, but what is shared is the indignance and anger of Jesus. Jesus rebuked his disciples by saying, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”
Jesus consistently offers grace to those who might otherwise be prevented from receiving it. Jesus provides healings for the possessed, lepers, women, the blind, the lame, tax collectors and sinners. The very fact that this small pericope mentioning children is even included in an ancient near Eastern text says something profound. Jesus is recognizing the dignity of children as is also recorded in Mark 9:36-37 when he states that whoever receives a child in his name, receives him. Children had no recognized social status. Orphans were at risk and needed to be taken care of and especially up to two years old, there was a high infant mortality rate. As a defensive measure, psychologically, many parents may not have become too attached until after two years old. This harsh reality could be a reason why these children were being brought to Jesus for a blessing.
Jesus, in his reaching out to the children, impresses the point that he takes the life of children seriously and by so doing encourages others to do so. There are historical accounts that Christians continued to take this teaching seriously. In ancient Roman society, if parents did not want a child they would just leave them in a local dump to die. Christians would come to retrieve the infants and bring them into their homes as their own.
Jesus also used this opportunity as a teachable moment when shared that “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Jesus is recorded as using the image of God as a Father one hundred seventy five times in the Gospels. Our relationship to God, then, can be seen as being children from the perspective of having total dependence and placing all our trust on God. Also, from this perspective, everything we receive from God, our Father, is as a gift.
Jesus teaches us that the kingdom of God is a pure gift. God has created us to be in relationship with him. God has given us our very existence through participation with our parents, and we need him as an infant does for his or her own very survival. We enter the kingdom of heaven when we recognize our dependence on God. Also, we need to recognize that we do not buy or earn our way into the kingdom because God and his realm is so transcendent, so beyond us, we cannot get there on our own effort and merit. We enter the kingdom of God when we say yes, and accept the invitation he offers.
Just as Jesus opens his arms to embrace the children, to receive and bless them in his arms, so he does so with us. In our willingness to enter into and receive his embrace, we enter into the kingdom of our Father. May we be thankful today for the gift of our lives, the gift that we are loved, the gift that we exist as a person of dignity, value, and worth. As we accept and embrace this gift of seeing God as he sees us, may we see others in the same way, not as other, but as brother and sister in the family of the kingdom of God. May we also work to promote a culture of life that recognizes and acknowledges the dignity and value of each and every person without exception from the moment of their conception, birth, throughout the ups and downs of daily life, up until our elder years and natural death.
Photo: First grade class I assisted with during my time in the pre-novitiate with the Franciscans of Holy Name in the Bronx, around 1990.
Link for the Mass readings for Saturday, May 26, 2018: