Dont’cha love ’em?
So does Jesus (Mark 10:13-16).
Here at the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners, we specialize in loving kids. I spend hours each day dealing with little kids. I love them because Jesus loves me, and he loves them. I give a lot of thought to this.
The disciples in Mark 10 didn’t see what I see. Of course, I have the advantage of reading Mark 10, whereas they lived it and could not know the things I know beforehand. But then even a study of Mark 10 is open to interpretation and debate.
As I recall it, one of my favorite professors in school pointed out how children in ancient times, unlike today, had no status – no standing – in society or in court. Socially and legally, children were kept in sort of a holding pattern until the age of accountability. Until that time, they were practically just potential people, not real people.
That’s certainly not the case today. As a foster parent, my home is subject to both routine and surprise inspections by the state. I keep a phone number to the ombudsman on the refrigerator in case a child wants to call in a complaint against me. While my old professor’s comment seems insightful, I am not satisfied it either tells the whole story or addresses the relationship of children and Jesus today.
My kids are exhaustingly wayward! Sometimes downright disrespectful. Always demanding and full of energy requiring almost constant attention and redirection. And while I always knew one or two energetic and hyperactive kids growing up, and while all of us had moments of waywardness, I also recall growing up in a small community where all of us kids felt accountable to our elders, many of whom were relatives or knew our parents.
Therefore, I am not convinced the waywardness of my kids is an indication of my poor parenting, though that might be a factor, nor do I think it’s entirely explained by the drug abuse or the DNA of their birth parents. There seems to be cultural tentacles of various kinds pushing and pulling us out of shape, out of the plan God had for us when he created the world (and of course, that would involve my parenting and the drug abuse of the birth parents too).
But there is something childlike about children too. Despite the moments of hyperactivity, of waywardness, of disrespect, defiance, disobedience, or any of that, there is an underlying love and trust which surpasses understanding. The kids may not like my decision on their behalf, but they still view me as the arbiter of justice. They have no idea where else to go for love, justice, meaning, food and so forth.
Without me to orient them, they are lost.
To put it in those words discounts the love we share – if we leave like that, but it’s important to my observation. If we were to wake up in the night to a smoke-filled house burning down around us, I have five of these little people to round up and lead to safety, not counting my wife. If I had to lead one at the curb and turn back for another, or if I were injured and could not get myself out, I don’t think I could get my children to stay in or go to safety without me. I expect they are more afraid of being away from me than they are the fire!
THIS indicates something of a childlike faith which I don’t have. I want to control my world and my life; my kids want me to control theirs, AND they fear a world where they might not have me to rule, to make things right.
When the disciples hinder the children from coming to Jesus, he directs them not to stop those kids. He tells his “disciples,” those “learning to follow him,” that to such belongs the rule of God.
The rule of God belongs to disciples such as those children!
The next story Mark tells following this scene regarding the children coming to Jesus is that of a rich man who calls Jesus “teacher.” In fact, he calls him “good teacher,” which casts the rich man in the role of “disciple.” The rich man wants to know how to “inherit life in the Age to Come.” He expects Jesus to “teach” him this. Jesus obliges and schools the man in the law coming to a head with the command to honor your father and mother, to which the rich man claims he has done since his youth – since he was a child!
And then Mark tells us Jesus, the teacher – the “good teacher/God”, looked at the rich man and LOVED him.
He loved him.
Jesus is extending that love I share with my kids, when he says to this rich man, this man who (if he were with us today) would be hard to shop for around Christmas because he already has everything, Jesus says he lacks one thing!
Wow! There’s one thing this man doesn’t have, and Jesus, as if a really shrewd Christmas shopper, knows what to get this man who has everything!
Are you catching this? The man who already has everything lacks one thing, and it’s a thing which comes to light as Jesus looks at him with love, a story that unfolds just after Mark describes the rule of God belonging to little children.
“Go sell your wealth, give it to the poor, count your blessings in heaven, and come follow me.”
The “good teacher” could have just opened with these words and settled the matter, but this man came as a “disciple” seeking “teaching,” and Jesus obliged, not with a statement, but with a lesson. He just “discipled” this man, not merely answered him.
The moment this man sells everything, gives it to the poor, counts his blessings in heaven and comes to follow, he will finally be a real disciple, a real learner of God, a person whose only option is to trust Jesus like a little child, a child who in emergency, like when the smoke fills the house, would rather remain there with Jesus as he is crucified than to go to safety at the curb.
To such belongs the rule of God.
This decidedly is not the faith I exhibit to my stockbroker as we strategize my retirement plan. Edward Jones Investments has an entirely other rule for me to live by and for. To such does NOT belong the rule of God. And the rich man turned and walked away from the LOVE of Jesus “disheartened.”
And then Jesus preaches that sermon which should make every American struggle with sleep at night, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the rule of God! It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the rule of God!”
Yes, the “good teacher” instructs the “children” about entering the rule of God.
Perhaps I need to take this passage with me next time I sit across the desk for Ed. What will the rule of God do to my investment portfolio? What if all 2000 some-odd members at the assembly where I hold membership were to do likewise? Would our church begin to look like the church in Jerusalem in Acts 2 and 4? Would we get an A on his discipleship from the “good teacher” and do what that rich man could not? Would that extend the rule of God in creation?
Think about it.