And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. (Mark 10:13-16)
Luke’s gospel indicates that infants (brephē) were being brought to Jesus. Here in Mark, it’s the word paidia, which can range anywhere from babies to preteens. Whether Luke was being more specific than Mark or simply highlighting one specific group of those that were being brought to Jesus isn’t all that important (though I tend to think that the “children” at least trended toward the infant age). What is important is the stark contrast between how the disciples react to the children and how Jesus reacts to them.
1. The disciples saw the children as a distraction from the kingdom; Jesus saw them as a depiction of the kingdom.
In all 3 of the synoptic gospels, this account comes immediately following an interaction with the Pharisees. I wonder if that had something to do with the disciples irritation with the children and their parents. Based on the view of the kingdom that Matthew ascribes to the disciples, I think that they probably saw interactions with important men like the Pharisees as being much more vital to the kingdom than dealing with loud, snot-nosed, whiny, little children. The word rebuke is the same one used in Matthew 16:22 when Peter rebukes Jesus for saying he was going to die. The disciples weren’t just politely asking that the parents wait until Jesus was less busy. They were probably being rude and obnoxious, admonishing the parents to stop bothering such an important man with such trivial matters.
But rather than being upset with the parents, Jesus was angry with the disciples. The word indignant can mean “to be aroused” or “to be grieved,” but it can also mean “to be incensed, offended, irate.” The fact that the disciples responded this way toward children was worrisome to Jesus. It moved him. He doesn’t just respond intellectually; he responds emotionally.
One of the reasons for Jesus’ strong response to the disciples is because they still didn’t understand his message of the kingdom. They saw the kingdom as a place for strong, willful men, who were like their conquering King that overthrew their oppressors. Jesus, however, saw it as a place for children, who were weak, meek, and unable to fight along side their King. I love what the Word Biblical Commentary has to say on verse 15:
“‘to receive the kingdom of God,’ is to submit to the authority of God’s rule. Adults, assumed to possess power and authority of their own, will not be able to enter the kingdom, for their own authority will clash with that of God’s. For this reason the person who wishes to receive the kingdom must receive it ‘as a child does,’ that is, without presumptions of self-importance and self-empowerment.”
The disciples, filled with their own self-importance, saw the kingdom as belonging to those who were strong, important, and powerful. But Jesus reminds them that he is the only one strong, important, and powerful enough to bring about the kingdom, and that it therefore belongs to those who are weak, meek, and humble enough to recognize his power and authority.
2. The disciples loved the children less than their parents did; Jesus loved them more than their parents did.
The children’s parents were bringing them to Jesus in the hope that Jesus would “touch” them. This was relatively common in Jesus’ day. Parents would bring children to a holy man hoping that the slightest contact with him would confer blessing or healing on them. This was especially true of Jesus since he had proven that even touching the hem of his garment provided healing. And that’s what makes the disciples’ reaction seem so absurd. These parents weren’t asking for a ton of Jesus’ time; they just wanted the slightest bit of contact. The disciples, in their “concern” for Jesus, would not even grant them that.
But did you catch what Jesus did after he rebuked the disciples? Jesus doesn’t just tell the children to stand in line for a split-second encounter. He took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. The phrase took them in his arms literally means “to embrace.” Jesus hugged them. He held them. He took the time to verbally bless them instead of just having the blessing flow through his touch. He laid hands on them, something that elsewhere in Scripture is connected with prayer. The parents just wanted the smallest thing they could hope to get. Jesus responds by giving them more than they could ever expect. The parents loved their children … but Jesus loved them even more.
Things to Reflect on in Light of this Passage:
1. Do I see the small, the weak, the needy, and the helpless as distractions from the work of God or do I recognize them as models for what I need to become to truly do the work of God?
2. Do I try to have an impact for God’s kingdom by focusing on a handful of powerful important people at the expense of multitudes of children with no political or economic influence?
3. Do I do anything that hinders children from receiving the blessings Jesus has for them? Do I “bring” children to Jesus to get the bare minimum of what he wants to bless them with? Or do I expect him to bless them far more than I could ever expect or hope for and do everything I can to help them receive that blessing?
4. If I am a parent, do I recognize that Jesus loves my children even more than I do? Do I therefore offer them up to him so he can take them in his arms and hold and protect them?