The Kingdom of God belongs to little children?

‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Mark 10: 14-16 – NRSV

What do we make of the phrase ‘whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it’? When we think of little children, the characteristics that come to our minds are maybe these: innocent, humble, obedient, trustful, joyful, unselfconscious, receptive, wondering, mischievous, tolerant and maybe even resilient? But it’s extremely difficult to piece together exactly what Jesus meant by the phrase ‘as a little child’. Our problem is that our society’s so distant from first century Palestine, that its’ almost impossible to put ourselves in their place. What I want to suggest to you is that maybe Jesus didn’t mean any of the characteristics of children that come to our twenty first century minds, but something that’s much less obvious and miles more challenging.

We think of children as a gift; as demanding our nurture and protection; many of us would go so far as to consider our roles as parents as possibly the most important we ever undertake in adult life.

But things were different in Jesus’ time and we kid ourselves if we believe children had an honoured place in that society. First of all, whether we like it or not, we have to accept that the birth of a girl, as in some Middle and Far Eastern societies even now, was greeted with sorrow in the time of Jesus, as women were considered inferior beings to men in every respect. But even male children were the legal property of their fathers (note, not mothers). Unwanted babies, particularly those from non-Jewish families, were often dumped on rubbish heaps and if they were rescued at all, it was so that they could be sold into slavery. There was much infanticide, particularly of girl babies and children had no rights, no value and no position in society. They only became of value when they were old enough to start work.

So I think it’s fair to speculate that when Jesus said that the kingdom of God belongs to small children, what he was saying was that they were absolutely without status or value. In this sense, his teaching on children very much accords with the message that we read elsewhere in the gospels: prostitutes, the unclean, lepers, the destitute, women and, yes, children, are the ones that God is blessing and to whom he is holding out the promise of a better future. It’s one small example of Jesus’ revolutionary teaching, that turns the world on its head.

We’ve come so far from the first century approach to the value of children, that maybe to bring the story to life, we need to consider who Jesus might have pointed to, to make his point in Britain in our time. To whom, in our country in 2020, does the Kingdom of God belong? We might think of destitute immigrants, or of the homeless, sleeping in cardboard boxes? Or of those who have no job, no home, no friends, no money and no prospects? All of these would have received Jesus’ compassion, but if we look for those with no influence or status at all, maybe we need look no further than the elderly with dementia in Care Homes? Like small children, such people are totally reliant on the compassion and goodwill of others.

They are, I think, the people, and those like them, whom Jesus had in mind when he said that the Kingdom of God belongs to little children.

What he was saying was that we need to become like nobodies, like people with neither power nor status, if we’re to understand what he truly expects of his followers. It’s one of our Lord’s toughest and most uncompromising messages. And at a time when Care Homes are in the press in a way that they aren’t normally, it’s maybe an example of how we should pray that things change, once the current restrictions have been lifted?

Loving Father, we know that Jesus brought his message specially for those with the least power and influence in his time. As we go about our daily lives at this challenging time, please remind us to keep uppermost in our prayers those who can no longer pray for themselves. Amen   

8 thoughts on “The Kingdom of God belongs to little children?

  1. Very interesting and it has given me something NEW to think about. So often in our Christian lives we feed on the ideas we have had for years when God is wanting us to hear something different. In this context, the men and women with dementia could be extended to anyone who has an illness which requires them to be completely dependent on others – maybe as we all need to depend on the Almighty. Thank you James.

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  2. Thank you James, certainly more food for thought as usual this gets you thinking especially, as you are right, in the current climate. To me I have always thought that Jesus meant that don’t think about it just have Faith that the Kingdom of God is near, to accept and believe as a child would believe anything an adult would say. As Jesus also said with Faith as small as a mustard seed you could move a mountain, I hope to God that more people are thinking of him at this time, as It is also said, Gold, Silver, wood and many other things that we covet will not save you when the time comes, only God can. I hope the current plague, hones people’s thoughts of God, Amen.

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  3. This is a tough and uncompromising message. I remember we talked about this in our study group. you could be right in that I feel in that this may a good reading of what the historic reference could have truely have referred to. I will ponder this one for some time because of course the last thing anyone really wants for themselves is to be in that terrible position of utter dependance and open to abuse of every kind. Is it true then that only IF we suffer such abuses we may enter the kingdom of heaven….I am not disagreeing as such just asking the question for consideration.

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    • Janet, I think we need again to look at the culture of the time to get the answer. Jesus’s world was, even more than ours, one that was controlled by and for the benefit of the rich and powerful. If you do any reading of what was happening at that time, you’ll see that. So I think his message was that those with power and influence were going to have to give those things up; the Kingdom is no place for exploitation. I don’t read it as meaning that those who have virtually nothing to give, have to surrender what little they have. And no, I absolutely do not think that Jesus is saying that we have to suffer abuse. Rather the opposite: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit; the Kingdom of heaven is theirs’. (Mt 5:3)

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      • Dear James NO MY TYPOS ! the typos were in my comments and I wanted to change them before you put my comment up….silly me I didnt see that my comments could have been misread that way…

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      • Sorry, Janet, silly me. Relax…your typos are no worse than mine. And I think I’m right that once something’s been published on the site, it’s not possible to change it!

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