“And [Jesus] took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.” (Mark 10:16)
This well-known story of the disciples turning away parents and children from Jesus is one of the few times we hear of Jesus interacting with children.
The attitude of the disciples does not impress Jesus. At best, they were over-protective of Jesus; at worst, they were overly dismissive of the parents and children. They felt they had the power to decide who came to Jesus.
The life expectancy of people in biblical times was short. Children were particularly vulnerable to diseases that no longer pose the same threat to children in modern times. The view of childhood has also changed over time. Our culture tends to sentimentalise children. Two hundred years ago, children were considered mini-adults, and even earlier, in the time of Jesus, they were seen as less important than adults. They held a very low status in a community where status was quite significant. This recount of Jesus blessing the children in Mark’s Gospel comes not long after the disciples had argued over who would be the greatest. Jesus reprimanded them by telling them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all”. The concept of status seems to be an ongoing issue for the disciples.
The children are the most vulnerable of all the people mentioned in this short encounter. They are described as “little” children and are certainly small enough for Jesus to take in his arms. And by taking them into his arms, Jesus is doing what he so often did. Jesus is showing compassion for the powerless and the vulnerable. Again, he shows us that everyone is important to him, including those who are not valued by others.
These little children were also young — too young to come to Jesus by themselves. Jesus removed all barriers created by the disciples so that he could receive them and bless them. So perhaps when Jesus said, “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (verse 15), he is also telling us that we cannot come to him through our own efforts. We are vulnerable, helpless like a child, and in our childish humility, Jesus is there to hold and bless us. It is through love from Jesus — not through our own efforts — that we are blessed.
Lord God, we thank you for embracing us with your love, and we ask that you help us share that love with all of your children. Amen.