“People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me. Don’t stop them, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
The lot of children used to be difficult one. They were generally seen as a drain on a family’s resources until they were old enough and strong enough to contribute meaningfully to the household. Vaudeville-era comedian, W.C. Fields was famous for his rather sardonic quotes about children. For instance, “There’s no such thing as a tough child – if you parboil them first for seven hours, they always come out tender.” Today, the place of children in some circles is so high we can scarcely imagine a world where it wasn’t. In fact, in many segments of our culture, we’ve swung the pendulum so far in the other direction that we are sometimes guilty of creating equal, but opposite, problems for them as we work out our own issues through them. That being said, there’s something wonderful about the wonder a child brings to this world. Jesus agreed. Let’s talk about it.
If you think things were or even are tough for children now, that’s nothing compared with their lot in the first century. In the broader Greco-Roman world, children were among the least valuable people on the planet. In fact, to call them people was to give them too much credit. Their lot was barely above that of an animal. Actually, it may not have even been that high. At least animals contributed to the family’s finances. Children merely took and gave nothing in return. If they became a problem, they could always be sold…or killed.
Now, things in the Jewish world were a little better, but not a lot. Thus, when Jesus was busy teaching one day and some people were bringing children to Him, the disciples were more than a little perturbed on Jesus’ behalf. How dare these women (as they most likely were) interrupt the Teacher with the needs of their children! Can’t they see He has far more important things to do than give His precious time to them? He is busy revealing the mysteries of the kingdom of God. They want Him to stop that in order to focus on their kids? They need to get their heads on straight and get out of the Teacher’s way.
We don’t know exactly how this scene played itself out, but I can imagine Jesus sitting with a crowd gathered around Him. Somewhere off to one side, these mothers were gathering, easing their way through the crowd toward the center with their children in tow. A couple of the disciples noticed what they were doing and moved to intercept. The women were not interested in being deterred from their goal. Perhaps one of their children was sick. They tried to push on toward the center where Jesus was. This attracted the attention of some more of the disciples and gradually the confrontation grew more intense.
Finally, things got loud enough that it got Jesus’ attention. He paused in mid-message and asked what was happening. The disciples spoke first. Jesus, these women were trying to bring their children to you. We tried to tell them that you were teaching right now and had a very busy day after that, but they just wouldn’t quit pushing. Please tell them to go away so we can get back to the important kingdom work we’re trying to do here. The people want to hear from you and they’ve interrupted the whole thing.
When the disciples finished talking, Jesus stood up and they were ready for Him to jump all over the women for interrupting His sermon – just like they told them they were doing. He had that look on His face they knew meant He was about to unleash some holy fury on someone. What they didn’t expect was that it was about to be unleashed on them. “How dare you…disciples get in the way of these children getting to me!” The look of shock on their faces had to be instant and almost comical. Wait, what? Us? How dare us? What do you mean, “how dare us”? We didn’t do anything wrong. We were only trying to protect your time and attention. It’s these women and children who are the problem.
“Let the little children come to me. Don’t stop them, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
If the disciples had been paying attention, they should have known this thing was going to go like this. After all, it was just recently that the group had been gathered in Peter’s house, with what may have been Peter’s own son on Jesus’ knee, while He told them that greatness in the kingdom of God was reserved for the humble…like a little child. How you treat the most vulnerable in your midst was a measuring stick for how you were going to treat Jesus Himself. And here they were rebuking children and refusing to receive them. It’s no wonder Mark describes Jesus as indignant. Not only had they completely missed out on His lesson, they were turning it completely over on its head.
What Jesus knew that the disciples and most of the culture then didn’t understand, was that children are special. They are special to God. That doesn’t mean they’re somehow more special or more valuable or wiser simply because they are children as our culture errantly believes. Instead, they are special because they have the ability to trust deeply without reserve. They believe simply and fully. They carry with them a natural sense of grateful wonder at the world around them. Adults can’t do that. We’ve been too jaded and abused. We’ve grown cynical and mistrusting. We are too burdened by sin. We can’t conceive of processing the world without that lens firmly in place. Yes, children can be whiney and selfish and egotistical, but they have a capacity for caring that many adults simply don’t have. They have a willingness to receive and be helped that we often can’t muster.
These traits and more are the traits someone seeking to enter the kingdom of God needs. We need to trust Him, not simply in absence of evidence, but because we are willing to trust in His character. We need to be willing to receive help from Him without harboring any delusions we can manage on our own. We need to be utterly confident in His ability to provide for us, constantly in awe of Him. We need to be humbly aware that He is greater than us. We should be gratefully excited at each new day He gives, always ready for the adventures it will bring. We need to be eager to spend time with Him, involving Him in every moment of our lives, constantly seeking His attention and approval. And if we don’t bring all of that to the table – the very things a child brings to the world each and every day – the kingdom of God is not something we’ll ever be able to enter. Indeed, as long as we think it depends on us, or that we bring something needed to the table, we’re aimed in the direction of a kingdom, but not His.
Take some time this week to spend an hour with a child and just take some mental notes. See which places you need to grow a bit younger of mind and heart. Your Father is waiting to play.