7 November 2016

Matthew 19:13-15

“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’” (v. 14)

Psalm: Psalm 42


Apart from one parable unique to Matthew's Gospel, most of the stories in Matthew chapters 19 and 20 - including their order - are 'parallel passages' copied from the earlier Gospel of Mark (Mark chapter 10). Mark's Gospel tells these stories as part of a narrative pattern which lasts from Peter's confession of faith that Jesus is the Messiah (Mark 8:27-30) up until Jesus's entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-11). What is this pattern? On three occasions Jesus predicts he is going to die (Mark 8:31-32a; 9:30-31; 10:32-34); the disciples misunderstand (Mark 8:32b-33; 9:32-34; 10:35-40); and Jesus responds with instructions on discipleship - both in theory and practice (Mark 8:34 - 9:29; 9:35 - 10:31; 10:41-45). As Matthew edits Mark's material, he tells us that this second set of instructions about discipleship took place as Jesus leaves Galilee to head towards Jerusalem (Matthew 19:1; 20:17).

So what does today's passage - the story of the blessing of the children - teach us about discipleship and the community of grace of which we are part?

People are bringing children to Jesus in the same way that they took them to the scribes on the eve of the Day of Atonement, the most solemn day in the year when Jews ask for God's forgiveness for all their sins. Were the disciples objecting to Jesus being treated as a mere scribe?

Jesus accepts the children because "to such as these" belongs the kingdom of heaven. Is it because only children would call God "Abba" ("Daddy") with absolute trust and confidence? Or is it because children lack the self-importance of adults? Remember, too, that in law (both ancient and modern) children are minors, cannot assert the same rights as adults, and are expected to deny their own wishes and obey those who care for them. One theologian, Joachim Jeremias, has suggested that "only to those whose whole life is a Day of Atonement, a becoming small before God, is entry under God's rule guaranteed".

To Ponder

  • Why do you think the disciples tried to stop the children from coming to Jesus?
  • In what ways do adults of today prevent children from coming to Jesus?
  • Jesus' disciples weren't always as welcoming as they ought to be. If he were here today, who else would he accuse his disciples of failing to welcome? If you go to church, how inclusive is your community of disciples?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Neil Cockling

Neil spent 20 years as a circuit minister before becoming the District Development Enabler for the Newcastle upon Tyne Methodist District. He now works full-time for the NHS as a Consultant Lead Chaplain in mental health, leading a multi-faith team of 14 chaplains working in 10 hospitals in Northumberland and Tyne & Wear.