Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

146. Little Children (Matt. 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17)*

The solemnity and emphasis with which Jesus spoke about the sanctity of marriage may not have meant much to his Pharisee adversaries, but it was noted by others. He who gave such an earnest blessing to a true God-centred marriage would surely add his blessing to the fruits of such a marriage. (Indeed, this sequel to the tricky discussion on divorce surely implies that an important consideration influencing attitudes to divorce must be the well-being of the children involved in such problem cases; Mal.2 :15).

So disciples— fathers as well as mothers (Mk. Lk.)-were immediately (Mt.) eager to bring their little children (toddlers and babes in arms) also, besides their sick folk (Lk.), to Jesus that they might receive his blessing. And they brought them (so Mark's word implied) as an offering, a sacrifice (Gen. 22).

Apparently it was a custom followed by some to seek the blessing of a distinguished rabbi on little children at the time of their first birthday. Then, birthday or no birthday, who better than Rabbi Jesus? The idea caught on with quite a number of parents. They began to assemble, so that they might approach him together. To them it meant a great deal that their children should be touched by such a wonderful man and that he should lay his hands on their heads and pray for God's providence and guidance over their lives.

The Power of Benediction

It may well be that some of these parents were led to seek this graciousness by the memory of how Joseph brought his sons to the aged Jacob for blessing (Gen.48 :14). Those benedictions in ancient days were not mere formalities but the inspired utterances of men of God, who were guided to impart knowledge of their sons' destinies.

If the blessing of Jacob and Moses could be seen long years later in the inheritance and history of the children of Israel, what would not the blessing of Jesus mean in the lives of these children (and their families) when they grew up? But the blessing of Jacob, as of other patriarchs also, was a last will and testament. So this winsome occasion now had, for Jesus, its sombre overtones. Golgotha was not far away.

Rebuke and rebuke

His disciples thought nothing of this parental eagerness, and-with the best of intentions, doubtless —intercepted the attempt to appropriate for little children their Teacher's time and attention. They deemed it an abuse of his kindness, a misappropriation of his time. These children were healthy enough. Wasn't the laying on of their Lord's hands for the sick and afflicted? The Greek text even suggests that the apostles, thinking themselves out of earshot (so Luke might imply), spoke sharply, not only to the parents but also to the toddlers some of whom were already making their way to Jesus. They actually held the children back.

But the Lord saw it (though he was probably not intended to), and it vexed him (Mk.). He called the little ones (Lk.), some scared, others in tears, and they come running to him. Here the Greek text beautifully puts the emphasis on his pleasure rather than their benefit! Then he spoke olmost severely to his disciples: "You must let tee little children come to me. Stop forbidding them. Stop holding them back; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." Then why shouldn't they be brought to the King?

He meant, of course, that it is the childlike spirit which qualifies for inheritance of the kingdom. Not that little children are all lovable attractiveness, for indeed there are times, when, in quarrelsomeness or temper, selfishness or sulks, they can be little devils. But in their ingenuousness and their uncritical unfeigned delight in receiving instruction, "as helpless ones receive an unearned gift" (L.G.S.), they exemplify the spirit in which the message of the kingdom should be welcomed. In this respect they are models to their cynical, suspicious, self-interested elders.

Children and the Kingdom

"Verily I say unto you," Jesus went on, "whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall in no wise enter therein." Clearly, by this he did not mean the exclusion of those who hear and accept the word of the gospel in their maturity. It was yet another emphatic way of stressing the need of the teachable disposition of a child. "To this man will I look . . . even to him that trembles at my word" (ls.66 :2; cp. Ps.131 :2). Very soon after this he was saying to those grown disciples; "Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God" Mk. 10:24; cp. also Mt.18:3,4) Later, Paul was to give the same figure a slightly different slant: "Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children" (1 Cor.14 :20). How marvellously within a minute does a little child dry his tears, and forgive and forget. This spirit also is a needful qualification for the kingdom of God.

Jesus spoke his blunt lesson to these grown men even whilst he had children close by him. Then he took the babies into his arms, first one and then another, giving them a good cuddle (Mk.), laying his hands on them, pronouncing words of benediction, and praying aloud to his Father in heaven for a blessing on them. If the words spoken by his preaching disciples, calling God's peace on the homes offering them hospitality, were no mere empty form (Lk.10 :5,6), it may be taken as certain that the fervent benison (Mk.) of Jesus imparted real good to each child he blessed.

It is possible that in this era the Lord's disciples have reacted over-emphatically from the sentimentalism and false theology of the churches so as to resemble the abrupt unkindness of the twelve more than the loving graciousness of their Master. It ought, for example, to be possible by a ten-minute addition to a Breaking of Bread service to invoke God's blessing on a new baby, with a special prayer that its parents will be given wisdom to care for, train and direct their growing child in ways of truth and godliness. He who loved and blessed little children would surely give a warm smile of approval to any such santification of the family.

Notes: Mk.l 0:13-16

Little children. Lk. says "babies also".

Touch. Classically this word also means "hold," as in Jn. 20 :17.
Suffer the little children ... and forbid them not. And in the gospels two of the adults present tell the story against themselves.

Forbid. For the precise meaning, see Job 12 :15; Ps.119 :101; ls.43 :6; Ez.31 :15 (LXX has s.w.).

Of such. Not "of these."

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