Psalm 141:1-2, 3, 8
It is a sign of our sad times that we can’t read about people bringing children to Jesus to have him touch them, and then about Jesus taking them in his arms, putting his hands on them and blessing them—without thinking, “Oops, Jesus couldn’t do that today, with all our concern about pedophilia. He’d have to go along with his disciples and let them shoo away those parents with their kids.”
Well that, obviously, was not the issue in this Gospel episode.
And even Jesus’ worst enemies did not level THAT charge against him.
So let’s clear the air with a deep breath and listen to what he is saying.
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom
of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, whoever does
not accept the kingdom of God like a
Now “the kingdom of God” was the main topic of Jesus’ whole teaching career. And in Mark’s narrative of his life, there are fourteen “kingdom of God” sayings. We have just heard two of them, and three more come up immediately six verses later in the next episode. So there is something more important going on here than some simple thought like, “Be nice.”
In the framework of the Bible and first-century Jewish expectations,
“the kingdom of God” means the long-awaited coming of God in power bringing
about the restoration of Israel, the end of spiritual exile, a fresh outpouring
of the Spirit and a new way for human beings to find community with a new
sense of the presence of the one God. If we ask, “When? Is
that kingdom accessible now,
So, in the face of such a mandate, what’s a graying, balding, jaded, wounded adult to do? Find some way to be cute? Innocent? Naïve? Ignorant? Or does he mean us to be self-centered the way some little kids can be? Hardly. We don’t hear Jesus advocating those childlike qualities anywhere. What then? Utter dependence. Children know that they absolutely depend on the big people. They know that everything is a gift. They know that they depend on others. And if they have been taught to pray, they recognize immediately that they are dependent on the ultimate Other.
Utter dependence. That’s not a much-valued quality in our post-modern world, or, for that matter, in most models of maturity. To be an adult is to have learned to stand on your own two feet and make your way in this world. And any parent wants those qualities for their growing child. Yet here is Jesus saying that we are going to miss the gift of the kingdom, if we are not childlike enough to receive it here and now.
What does that mean “on the ground” in daily life? Prayer, for one thing. Asking for what we need like little kids running to a parent with their needs. If we are looking for a more adult-sounding example, Mark provides one in the next episode. That’s the one where the rich man comes to Jesus with the question, “What should I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus recognizing that the man is focused on adult DOING before he has mastered the art of childlike RECEIVING. Since he has locked his identity into his possessions, Jesus advises him to let go of those possessions and follow him. He goes away sad. So Jesus comments in the form of the famous saying about how difficult it is for rich folks to enter the kingdom of God. When the disciples wonder, “Who, then, can be saved?” Jesus says, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. With God, all things are possible.”
That’s a key to the childlike quality Jesus means. Wealth,
and the power that comes with it, can delude a person into thinking that
they are not really dependent on anything. In that condition, we
can lose the childlike capacity to receive the kingdom of God already present
to us. So, ironically, grown-up spirituality means that—without becoming
dumb or irresponsible--we have to become a child, to “let go and let God.”
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