God’s People, part 202: Children

Read Mark 10:13-16

“Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.”  (Proverbs 22:6, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

jesus-and-the-little-childrenPart 202: Children. This is one of those texts in which context is key. Most people read this with their 21st century lenses on, doting on the imaginary children they envision rushing up to a tenderhearted, bright smiling Jesus waiting to embrace them and play “patty cakes” with them on his lap. We, in Western Civilization just love children. In fact, we more than love them; we idolize them.

We can see this in the way we parent nowadays. Where the kids are we go. Parents no longer tell their children that they have to go to church and put God first. They no longer structure their children’s lives; rather, they allow their children to structure their lives. This, of course, has not only led to an increasingly godless society but, in some cases, it has created self-centered monsters out of our children.

This was not the case in Jesus’ day and age. Before describing children in the ancient world, I need to be clear that I am not saying that the ancient world’s way of rearing children is the perfect, most blessed way either. I think both eras have their highlights and their shady points in parenting. Any parent knows there is no manual that comes with their children and, often, parenting is learned through societal norms as much as it is passed down from our own parents.

In Jesus day, the place for children was in the household. They were to be seen and not heard. It was expected that they would help around the house. As soon as boys were old enough, they would go to work with their father’s, learning whatever trade or vocation they held. We see that this was the case of Jesus, who was a apprentice in carpentry under his father Joseph. As an adult, Jesus carried on his father’s work until he left that behind to become an itinerant preacher and rabbi.

The girls would help their mothers around the house until the age that their father could find a suitable husband. That usually happened as soon as the girl was able to bear children. Thus, many women were arranged a marriage around the age of 14. Up until then, the girl’s place was in the home with mom, taking care of housekeeping, cooking, and teaching the younger kids stories from the Hebrew Bible.

This was a radically different world of parenting from ours. It was a society built on honor. It was not considered honorable or right for the children to be out in society bothering other adults. Thus, for those parents to be bringing their children to Jesus to be touched and blessed was completely inappropriate in that society. There was a pecking order and children were at the bottom of the totem pole until they grew old enough to contribute to the household. Even then, their place was not with the adults until they became an adult.

“These children are not ill. They have nothing wrong with them. Why, then, would these thoughtless parents bring them, disrupting our master when he was so busy with important matters.” That is, no doubt, what the disciples where thinking when they scolded the parents for bringing their children. According to the societal and religious culture in the ancient Middle East, the disciples were in the right to put those parents, along with their children, back in their places.

Yet, Jesus did not think so; rather, he turned to his disciples and scolded them. “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:14-15, NLT) In that moment, he taught his disciples that “the least of these”, including innocent children, are as valuable to God as anyone else. Jesus also taught them that their pecking order was NOT GOD’S.

Let us be challenged by this. Let us not seek status in the world, but let us humble ourselves before God. Let us approach God and others with the innocence of a child. That does not mean we should be naïve, but that we should be as eager and open to embracing God as a child is. If we approach God and others with that openness, then truly the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to us.

“God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.” – Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:5, NLT)

Lord, give me the openness, eagerness, and humility of a child. Amen.

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