26 February 2011Mark 10:13-16
"Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs." (v. 14)
If God's love for us is a gift to be received with humility,
then Jesus demands that it is also a gift to be shared. After all,
the task of showing and sharing God's love is what his entire
ministry and death boils down to. It places God before self; it
shows love to be self-giving.
Well of course, we might say. For the Christian disciple, is that not stating the obvious? But in practice, these verses suggest that the committed disciple may be protective of the gift she receives, to the exclusion of others.
In The Innocent Anthropologist, Nigel Barley writes about his first visit to live with the Dowayo tribe in Cameroon. There he became known as someone with access to simple remedies for some common ailments. He discovers, however, that his loyal translator - a local man - is turning potential patients away, ostensibly to protect Barley's privacy. The real reason is that the translator feels his own privileged position to be under threat. He is anxious that Barley should remain aloof from others in the community and so reinforce his own exclusive knowledge and special status.
Traditionally, we are invited to think that, in turning away those who have brought their children to Jesus for a blessing, the disciples are merely protecting Jesus from the pressures of celebrity. But might they not as easily be wishing to protect their own celebrity-by-proxy? Once part of an inner circle, it is hard not to allow the establishment of a two-tier system, however subconsciously - those in the know and those who are not.
So naturally Jesus chides the disciples and says that all little children should be welcome in God's kingdom. That is surely one of the reasons we are so happy when little children are part of our church congregations: they are signs of God's kingdom… Except that this is not just about cute little children. It is about sharing God's love with anyone who is part of our community, whether or not they bring a smile to our faces.
Who do we find it hardest to include within our communities of faith?
Many of us like our faith communities to be places where 'everyone knows our name'. But how might it feel for visitors or newcomers entering such a community?
Apart from in little children, in who else do we see signs of God's kingdom?