~ Mark 10:13-16 ~
The chairman of the “Decency and In-order” committee had his hands full.
“Ma’am, you can’t bring your child in here. The Master is too busy talking to the adults.”
“Hey, you kids. Stop that running around. Don’t you have any respect?”
“Sir, I know you want to bring your children to Jesus so he can touch them. But he is involved with more important matters.”
“Guys, I said to stop running…and be quiet!”
“Ma’am, if your baby is going to cry like that you’ll have to take it outside. Thaddeus, can you help with that?”
Suddenly, from behind, “What is going on here? Stop yelling at the children. I can’t believe you are doing this. Have you not learned anything? Let them all come to me. Don’t hinder them in any way. Didn’t I tell before that when you welcome a child you welcome me and my father. How can I say it clearer? These children are what the Kingdom of God is all about. The Kingdom of God belongs to these children and all the children like them. If you don’t welcome the kingdom as a child you don’t get in. Can I make it any plainer than that?”
“Come here little one. Let me hold you in my arms. Bless you…and you. Come here. It’s OK. Bless you, and you, and you. Welcome to the Kingdom of God.”
Meanwhile, the members of the committee scratched their heads, and said to each other, “I don’t get it.” Their confusion was well founded.
Remember the old anti-war poster from the 60’s? “War is unhealthy for children and other living things.” Well, to those confused disciples, Jesus was walking right into a war. Here they were marching to Jerusalem to take on the powers of the cosmos. Even if the disciples didn’t know Jesus full agenda, they did know that confrontations were in the offing. This enterprise was certainly too dangerous for children.
Likewise, so would the writer of this gospel’s congregation. Mark’s people found themselves in the middle of the Jewish revolt. They were literally facing death all around. War was a very present reality. The choices Jesus demanded through the gospel of Mark were life and death choices. This was certainly too dangerous for children.
But then, the world had always been dangerous for children. All was not well for children in first century Palestine. The picture is almost entirely negative. Children are ignored, exploited, abused, and killed. They get sick and die. In Mark’s world we see children mostly in harm’s way. Look how children are presented in the gospel. In every case they are in situations of sickness or oppression. There is Jairus’ daughter sick to death; the Syrophoencian’s daughter with the unclean spirit; and the deaf and dumb son possessed by a demon. The world the children lived in was very scary and dangerous.
The reason was quite simple. They were at the bottom. In a long list of hierarchical relationships based on power and domination, they were the last. When it comes down to it children were the most exploited of all groups. We have seen in the gospel, as a focus of Jesus’ concern, the impure, the poor, the gentiles, and women as representations of real social marginalization. Well, children represent the most marginalized.
And as such, they become subjects of Jesus advocacy for his radical kingdom ideas. As he tells the disciples later, “many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” And children are the last. So, they get special attention. In fact, this is a watershed event for understanding the nature of the kingdom of God.
“We are the world, we are the children.” And if a particular song popped into your head right then you might remember the next lines, “We are the ones who make a brighter day, so let’s start giving.” If you’ll recall this was a charity song written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie and performed by the supergroup United Support of Artists for Africa. With scores of top artists performing, like Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan and Cindy Lauper (remember her?), this 1985 production was a huge success, raising millions for aid to Africa. It was a bold statement of solidarity with the peoples of the world.
The reason it came to mind for me was the ingenious idea that we, all of us, are the children of the world. And that, maybe, if we can identify ourselves as such, we will be more responsive to the plight of children around the world. In many parts of the world children do not fare any better than in the time of Jesus. Indeed, maybe worse. It is still a dangerous world for children. In every country in the world, in every country on that map on that table, children are suffering mightily. A bit later in the service we are going to ask you to come to this map and place a token on a country that you particularly would like to pray for. I encourage you, even now, to bring to mind a place where children are in need of our prayers.
It is in this spirit that in celebrating this supper in solidarity with Christians around the world that we are called to remember the children. The church worldwide needs to be on the forefront of addressing the conditions that make for a dangerous world – war, genocide, oppression, poverty, disease, lack of water, global climate change. The church is called to this.
We are the children. At least, we ought to be, according to Jesus, “for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” May our participation in this supper be an expression and a call to action for the children of the world – and other living things. Amen.