The portrait of Jesus in Mark 10 is one of my favorites. The disciples have been arguing about their place in the Kingdom. The Pharisees continue to seek out Jesus in order to test him. As the rich young ruler is waiting on deck to prove himself, Jesus is spending time with the children.
13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. (TNIV)
The ancient attitude toward children was much different than ours. In Greek society, the one-child family was most common. Infanticide was rampant. Unwanted children were often left on trash heaps or in some isolated place. Others were sold to slave traders. The boys were put to work in hard labor as soon as they were old enough. The girls were put to work, too, but in a different vocation, their innocence taken from them much too early.
This is the context we are transported into in Mark 10. And yet, the Gospel writer uses children to paint a portrait of discipleship. As others clamor around Jesus to satiate their self-serving purposes, Jesus blesses these little ones who freely receive the gift of the Kingdom. The weakest, most insignificant, most vulnerable members of society are lauded as paragons of discipleship.
Notice what the text says: “People were bringing little children to Jesus.” I’m convinced the best thing we can do for our children is to bring them to Jesus. I believe that with all of my heart and I’m thankful for each parent, minister, coach and teacher who will participate in the spiritual development of my children. If you’re going to be one of those people for my children, then I thank you in advance.
But I can’t just read this passage as a father. I must also read it as a disciple. This passage is far deeper than my individualistic interpretation of it. There’s a local and even a global dimension to discipleship. The greatest thing we can do for the children of Huntsville is to bring them to Jesus. The children of Butler Terrace need Him just as surely as the children of Hampton Cove.
In our own country, nearly 13 million children live in poverty. But our poverty is another nation’s wealth. According to UNICEF, 30,000 children a day die because of their impoverished lifestyle. This number could be drastically reduced if these children simply had access to clean drinking water. In Africa, 6,000 children a day are orphaned due to the AIDS pandemic sweeping across the continent. The International Justice Mission estimates that each year, 1 million new children are forced into the sex trafficking trade. It’s amazing how little the world has changed in 2,000 years.
I would say these children are the insignificant, the weak, the forgotten among us who most desperately need a word of hope. A word of truth. A word of Gospel, of Good News. Who will bring them to Jesus? Who will meet their physical needs that they might have their spiritual needs met? Who will pray for them? Who will bind their wounds? Again, I ask, who will bring them to Jesus?
May a spirit of compassion well up within God’s people.
If not us, who?
If not now, when?