In today’s Gospel scene, or pericope, 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 offered, but what is shared is the indignance of Jesus. Jesus rebuked his disciples: “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” (Mk 10:14-15).
Jesus consistently offered grace to those who might otherwise be prevented from receiving it. Jesus provided healings for the possessed, lepers, women, the blind, the lame, tax collectors and sinners. The very fact that this short account mentioning children is even included in an ancient near Eastern text says something profound. Jesus recognized the dignity of children as was also recorded in Mark 9:36-37 when he stated that whoever receives a child in his name, receives him.
Children in the ancient Near East had no recognized social status. Orphans were at risk and needed to be taken care of. Children up to two years old were vulnerable in many ways and as such, experienced a high rate of infant mortality. Because of this reality, many parents may have developed an unconscious, defensive posture that they did not become too attached to their children until after they were two years of age. This harsh reality could also 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 so 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, one recourse was to leave them in a local dump to die. Christians would retrieve the infants and bring them into their homes and raise them 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. From the historical context of infants and young children during the time of Jesus and Jesus equating that the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as them, he could be leading his followers and us to the understanding that we are to depend totally and place all our trust in God as our Father.
God has created us to be in relationship with him and one another. We need him as an infant does for his or her own very survival. This also means that we do not buy or earn our way into the kingdom of Heaven because God and his realm is so transcendent, so beyond us, that we cannot possibly get there on our own effort and merit. We enter the kingdom of God through the door of his Son, who is the way, the truth and the life.
Just as Jesus opens his arms to embrace the children in today’s Gospel, 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. It is relationship with God who we are wired for, he is our hope, our meaning, and our fulfillment.
Thank you Jesus for the gift of loving us and revealing to us our dignity, value, and worth. Help us to accept and embrace this gift of your love so that we may love each other as brothers and sisters. Help us 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 to and including our elder years until 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.