People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. 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. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16, NRSV)
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the context of the first century the action and attitude of Jesus in the passage we have just heard is little short of groundbreaking.
This was a society that believed in multiple gods and told stories of warfare between these deities. Geographical features were often explained as the corpse of defeated gods unfortunate enough to be slaughtered in battle. Offerings and sacrifices were made to win favour and appease the angry and aggressive characters. Even Israel, God’s chosen people, at certain points found themselves caught up in these perceptions of heaven.
This was an understanding of the world where the mighty and powerful ruled with a violence that inspired the careless destruction of warriors and armies.
And, into this cosmic battlefield, came Jesus. He was born in humble circumstances, learned his father’s simple trade, gathered an unpromising band of followers, and walked the dusty Palestinian roads seeking anyone who would consider his parables. He was often dependant on the goodness of others for meals and shelter.
Our reading is characteristic of the edgy humility that Jesus lived out. When the people dare bring their children to be blessed by the great miracle worker, even his disciples considered it inappropriate. They presume their rebuke is in line with the wishes of their leader.
Our translation speaks of Jesus ‘indignation’ at this assumption. The original language is stronger. Jesus’ response is better understood as ‘anger’. He is ready, as his words reveal, to fight for the right of these children and their parents, to access his blessing. Jesus wants to be around ones ‘such as these’.
And his reasoning: these little ones, in their innocence, trust, and dependence, mirror the humble approach that is a prerequisite for entry into the very kingdom of God. They are examples of the humility of heaven.
And so, we see Jesus, the one claiming to perfectly reflect the very character of the creator and sustainer of all that is, gently, lovingly, and respectfully, embracing each child and leaving with them the blessing of God.
Such a simple account, in its time, challenged the very perceptions of world order. Perhaps it also challenges us.What if at the core of the universe is one who was not violent, but gracious, humble, and welcoming?
But today, gathered in celebration of the gift of Noah, we see this simple story affirming our prayers for this child, and our desire for his life to know the blessing of this surprisingly gracious God.