28 November 2007Luke 18:15-17
"But Jesus called for them and said, 'Let the children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.'" (v.16)
At first glance this seems a strange reading in the middle of a
week of readings on 'Christ the King'. But it does give us an
example of Jesus' teaching about the 'kingdom of God'. It also
illustrates the way Jesus lived out and demonstrated the values and
life of that new kingdom.
The 'kingdom of God' is a key idea in Jesus' message, as we see from the beginning of his ministry in Mark 1:15. The 'kingdom of God' is not a place in the way that the United Kingdom is a place, or at least it is not a place yet. The great hope of the Old Testament was that Jerusalem and Judah and then the whole world would be that place eventually, but those days were yet to come.
Jesus begins his ministry by announcing that that time is near. In the meantime people can 'enter' this kingdom. They can begin living as if it has arrived, begin living by its new values and in its new ways.
Living under the new 'rule' of God, with him as their king, is different and radical. For example, as in this passage, children matter in this new kingdom. In the old one they didn't matter much at all. The disciples were just doing what adults did, getting the children out of the way, putting them in their place, neither to be seen nor heard.
Jesus takes a very different line. This rabbi does an unheard of thing, he welcomes the children - just as he welcomed women, tax-collectors, prostitutes, lepers, the sick and outcasts in general. This was another powerful demonstration of who were the citizens of this new kingdom.
And don't ask me what 'receiving the kingdom of God as a little child' means. Every commentary has a different suggestion. Those commentators who know some nice children say it refers to the humility, innocence or gratitude of children. Others say that it refers to how children want everything 'now!' and grab what they want.
No wonder good, honest and faithful people couldn't understand Jesus sometimes. No wonder they were scandalised and offended. I would have been, given the conventions of the time, and I bet you would have been too. Think about some modern equivalents of the people he accepted and welcomed and see how you feel.
What do you think 'receiving the kingdom of God as a little child' could mean?