“Like a Child”
13People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But 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. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
(Mark 10:13-16, NRSV)
The British Broadcasting Corporation recently released a public advertisement featuring children and their understandings of what differentiates them from someone else. In each segment, two young children are asked the question, “What makes you different from each other?” One segment shows a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl standing next to her friend, who is a dark skinned, brown-eyed boy. When asked the question, the little boy thinks for a moment and responds, “I used to not like lettuce but now I do.” The little girl interrupts, “and I do NOT like lettuce at all!” The next segment features two little girls who look to be about eight years old. One of the friends is in a wheelchair. When asked the question, “what makes you different from each other” they ponder for a moment. The little girl in the wheelchair proclaims, “Lucy LOVES tomato sauce! I do like it, but not as much as Lucy. She really loves it.” In another vignette, there is a light skinned little boy with glasses and an African American girl who are neighborhood friends. After the question is posed to them, they think for a moment about their possible differences. The little girl exclaims, “Well, Arthur lives up the hill and I live down the hill.” Arthur interjects, “No, I live down the hill and YOU live up the hill!” In the next segment, two girlfriends, one with Down Syndrome, are asked the same question. One friend responds “Adele likes chips and I like sushi.” The friend with Down Syndrome sweetly adds, “That’s how we are different.” The last segment features two little boys, one Asian and one Caucasian. When asked “what makes you different from each other”, one friend knows immediately his answer. He exclaims while pointing to his friend, “Well, HE doesn’t have squirrels in his roof! We have squirrels in our roof and we can’t watch television that much because the squirrels keep biting the lines!” The advertisement ends with the words, “When it comes to difference, children see things differently.”
In today’s Gospel story, Jesus invites us to see the beauty of children. Jesus invites us to see through life’s lens like a child. In the book of Mark, Jesus is surrounded by the sights and sounds of children. His message about the Kingdom of God has reached the far corners of the land. Masses gather in droves as he travels from city to city preaching and teaching. There is a mysterious wonder about this man – this Rabbi. Jesus has just entered the region of Judea and addresses the crowds that have assembled to witness him in the flesh. As with any large gathering of humanity, there are children present with their families. I imagine children up on their parent’s shoulders and mothers hushing loud giggles coming from below. Mothers from neighboring villages have gathered too with their little ones, so that Jesus might offer a blessing to them.
With Jesus at the center, people shove their way to the front, hoping to get a closer look. They want to see him – that he might touch them, heal them – bless them. They are stopped suddenly in their tracks as they encounter a barrier of disciples serving as bodyguards of sorts. The disciples are the last obstacle of protection for Jesus and assume the duty of keeping away any unnecessary havoc. The disciples reject the mothers and their children in attempts to keep Jesus from the chaos and worry that children often present. Biblical scholar William Barclay perceives that perhaps the disciples get a bad reputation for this incident.
Barclay writes, “The disciples were not boorish and ungracious men. They did not quite know what was going on, but they knew clearly that tragedy lay ahead and they could see the tension under which Jesus labored. They did not want him to be bothered. They could not conceive that he could want the children about him at such a time as that.
Even in the disciples’ desperate attempts to protect Jesus, he says in response to them, “Let the children come to me.”
This simple directive tells us a great deal about Jesus. Barclay notes that “it tells us that [Jesus] was the kind of person who cared for children and for whom children cared. He could not have been a stern and gloomy and joyless person. There must have been a kindly sunshine on him. He must have smiled easily and laughed joyously. This little, precious incident throws a flood of light on the human kind of person Jesus was”, Barclay adds.
As followers of Christ, perhaps too often we try to complicate the simplistic. As Jesus gathers with the children on this day, his message is clear. Jesus says, “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.”
In reading this story, I wonder what exactly Jesus values most in children? Why does he use this illustration to teach us about the Kingdom of God? Perhaps in our spiritual quest, we might uncover these truths as we sense them and experience them through the eyes of a child. Perhaps one of the greatest mysteries of children is that, whether we sense it or not, they are continuously teaching us realities about God’s love and our access to God’s kingdom here on earth, perhaps as it is in Heaven.
Have you ever tried taking a walk in your neighborhood with a young child? Or tried to get a child to move in synch with your hurried schedule? It’s exhausting. If we were to pause for a moment to take life in as children do, perhaps we might catch a glimpse of something Holy from time to time? Our daughter Charlotte constantly calls us to slow down and take notice of the world. Often times as we take walks around our neighborhood, we will suddenly notice that she is 30 steps behind the rest of us. We stop in our tracks and ask her (in the most loving way possible of course) to please catch up. Inevitably she will have found what is, in her words, “the most beautiful flower ever”. She will refuse to proceed until the whole family (including our dog) has walked 30 steps back to her and appropriately observed “the most beautiful flower ever”. Her observations range from clouds that look like Mickey Mouse to the tiniest lady bug she discovers on a leaf. Charlotte has a way of bringing us back to beauty and mystery that we would otherwise miss along the hurried adult way of life.
As we age, life’s disappointments and experiences often leave us cynical as we sense the world around us. Negative interactions with others have left us bereft of trust and compassion. We focus more on the things that divide us rather than the ways we are connected as human beings. We allow our differences to become obstacles and we sit in our respective corners holding our unique grudges. We often busy ourselves with things we believe to be important. The more we reflect, however, the more we realize that perhaps those things turned out to not be as significant as we once thought. In our aging, we often lose our sense of play and adventure. We forfeit God’s gift of wonder. We lose the ability to be fully present and in the miracle of a moment.
Do we still stop and witness God’s handiwork around us? Perhaps we need to tap into our inner child and wake up to play and wonder. Perhaps we need to come out of our grudge holding corners and seek after the things that unite us rather than divide us.
In our faith journey, we discover the Kingdom of God through the eyes of our children. As we witness them through play and mystery might we see how they see, love how they love, and embrace how they embrace. Might God wash away our cynicism and doubt that we might discover newfound trust. May our souls strip away the desensitized parts that we might learn to feel and create connections with those we meet along life’s way. May our eyes sharpen their vision so that we might experience the world anew, with wonder and God-filled awe.
Creative spiritual writer Michael Coffee describes beautifully our desire to sense life like a child through a prayer. He writes,
“Make us enjoy bubbles blown in the wind
and chased after in giggling glee
before they pop and splatter on our faces
Move us to climb the summer night to the rooftop
watching the meteor shower till dawn’s twilight
with guttural wows and oohs at the sparkling sky streaks
Give us energy for playing in the debris of the world
turning mud into castles and sticks into houses
and we imagine we are kings and queens again
Give us eyes to see an enchanted universe
where every magical dream and foolish hope
are possible and expected and make us giddy with anticipation
Take our sticky adult minds and thin our thick thoughts
until our flowing childhood wonder returns at every cricket
and we are moved by every chocolate kiss and lip kisses, too
until finally you elicit our…praise
and we sit back in Your loving arms and your welcoming chest
and we know very little except that we are and we are in You.”
Let us go now in God’s peace. Might we, like children, be filled with wonder, awe and praise.
Let us go now into this day, church family, like a child. Might we see each other for our humanity. Might we sense awe and wonder in a moment. May we be filled with joy and praise. And in doing so, might we discover the very Kingdom of God. AMEN.
Creator of all things, form us anew in the likeness of Christ. Open us up to possibilities we cannot imagine, and free us from self-imposed limitations. Help us to explore the wonderful depths of faith, for wherever we go, you are with us. Give us ears to hear your call and the willingness to follow you to new places of faith.
We pray for the condition of our world this morning. We pray that where there is violence, we would find a peaceful solution. We pray that where there is hunger and thirst, we would find resources to quench and to satisfy. Help us realize and sense our connectedness as humanity.
We pray for our church family.
We seek to be faithful as we live out our lives. Draw us closer to you. In the name of Christ we pray, Amen.
(Adapted from Refreshing Rains of the Living Word by Lavon Baylor)
 Barclay, William, The Gospel of Mark.
 Coffee, Michael; http://www.ocotillopub.org/2012/10/and-he-took-them-up-in-his-arms.html)