People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. (NRSV)
Luke is not necessarily the only gospel writer who cares about order (Luke 1:1). The Gospel of Mark is also carefully constructed. As such it is far from unreasonable to consider the context in which we encounter Jesus’ blessing of the ‘little children’. There may be more flow between this and the passage immediately before than initially thought.
As we have seen, the Pharisees’ manipulative line of questioning raised issues of a husband’s rights. Absent is any discussion on social implications, responsibility, or God’s gift of marriage. Jesus’ questioners are exclusively interested in clauses allowing a man to move on. It all stems from a ‘hardness of heart’.
And now we see the disciples ‘sternly’ initiating the turning away of children and those who bring them. Perhaps the absence of these ‘little ones’ in the Pharisee’s discussion, and now their rejection by the disciples, highlights something of the first-century place of the young. They are left looking somewhat vulnerable.
Alarmingly, something in the disciple’s world-view causes them to see their action as acceptable and even necessary. They see this group’s request as obviously unreasonable. Of course we do well not to judge too harshly.
There are also many issues that take precedence over the blessing of children in the modern world. Still, Jesus’ response is telling. He is clearly not as accepting of the disciple’s action as those around him. For him this request is worthy of his time.
But from the beginning of this passage there are also others for whom children are not forgotten. It is these unnamed ‘people’ who actively request this blessing. Do they see the potential that lies in these young lives or are they more attracted by the powerful touch of Jesus? We do not know. But whatever their motive there are some in this story who remember the ‘little ones’ and find a way of expressing their hope for them. Their approach is an act of faith.
And it is richly rewarded. Jesus finds not only time to perform his blessing but also opportunity to highlight their admirable receptiveness. Perhaps it could be summed it up as a softness of heart. Perhaps Jesus finds it refreshing to encounter such openness.
Here, as always, the action of Jesus is much more than merely illustration or example. This blessing if the children stems directly from the heart of God and expresses the very character of the kingdom.