“Truly, I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

“Truly, I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

Sunday 7 October 2018
If you got a tip from one of Jesus’ disciples for the winner of the Melbourne Cup, you’d ignore it I reckon. The disciples of Jesus are not backing too many winners in the second half of the Gospel of Mark. Peter has been rebuked for his lack of understanding of the nature of Jesus’ messiahship; Peter also did not know how to respond to Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain; the other disciples were unable to cast the evil spirit out of the young boy who was brought to them by a distraught father; they were caught out arguing over who was the greatest among them; and then John tried to stop someone who was not one of their group from casting out a demon in Jesus’ name and he received a rebuke as well.
Well the troubles continue towards the end of today’s reading when the disciples speak sternly to some people who were bringing their children to Jesus. We read that Jesus was “indignant” – a very interesting word. And it is also interesting that there is complete consensus amongst reputable English Bible translations that the right English word is “indignant”.
The Macquarie Dictionary defines “indignant” as strong displeasure at something deemed unworthy, unjust or base. In the context of Mark’s Gospel, we are probably not dealing with something unworthy or base, so the likelihood is that Jesus is annoyed with the disciples because they are acting unjustly in his view
Jesus sees keeping the children from him as a question of injustice. The disciples have no right to deprive the children of the opportunity to approach Jesus, to be near Jesus, to be embraced in Jesus’ love for all people. We are probably dealing again with the cultural norm that we struck a couple of weeks ago in the gospel. Namely, that children were not valued as people because they could not return hospitality. Therefore, in the disciples eyes, they should not be “annoying” Jesus, taking up his valuable time.
And just like the previous incident involving a child, Jesus uses the children to make a very important point to the disciples. “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly, I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
This teaching justifies some serious reflection by we who claim by our Baptism to be disciples of Jesus. It is not for us to make assessments on who is or is not worthy to come to Jesus, to seek their salvation and redemption in him.
And yet, I fear that this is what we can often be seen to be doing by the world at large. Sometimes, religious people give the impression that there are a whole lot of hurdles that need to be jumped before those whose lives have been characterised by what might be considered immoral living can come to Jesus.
There are so many examples in the Gospels of where Jesus condemns this attitude by his own openness to everyone who seeks him out that it becomes one of the charges laid against him by his opponents: “a friend of sinners and tax collectors”.
In today’s gospel, it is not that the children are sinners that they are discouraged from coming to Jesus, but because they are not socially OK within the culture. And we do very well to consider Jesus’ rebuke to the disciples in order to ensure that we approach Jesus with an appropriate mindset ourselves.
“Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
Now I am sure that you have previously heard preachers make the point that by saying this, Jesus does not mean that we have to be “childish” to receive the kingdom of heaven, but that we have to be childlike. This is a very important point and one that we need to consider in trying to align ourselves to Jesus’ requirements.
Another thing that we need to keep in mind is that whenever we use metaphors or similes like this one, we have to be discerning in how we apply them.
A metaphor is used when we use one thing to describe another. For example: God is a rock. A simile is when we say that something is like something else. For example: God is like a rock. God is as strong as a rock. Clearly, what Jesus uses in this text is a simile: “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as (or like) a little child will never enter it.”
The reason why we have to be discerning is that whenever we use a metaphor or simile as image of something else, it is never a one for one match. For example, when we say “God is like a rock”, we are probably keen to convey the image of stability or solidity onto God. We are not saying that God is an immovable dense object.
In the same way, when Jesus says we need to receive the kingdom of God in the same way as a child, it means that we should be open and trusting and respectful, not that we should be churlish, bad-tempered and selfish which we all know children are also capable of being at times.
In other words, Jesus wants us to reflect upon the positive aspects of children’s behaviour, particularly in regard to children’s willingness to trust and rely upon their parents to do what is good for the children.
Such an attitude can only become a reality if we know our God well enough to be able to invest that trust in God. It calls on us to do all in our power to grow in our love of and knowledge of God. That also happens to be one of the aims of the Leading Your Church into Growth Program that we undertook as a parish last year. It aimed to help us to grow in congregation numbers, to grow in the depth and understanding of our faith, to grow on the service that we render to others around us.
A child recognises the need to grow. Children come to an age when they realise that they will not always be children. You can ask them what they want to be when they grow up and they will tell you. Jesus is asking us to realise that like children, we still have the need to be open to growth. The LYCiG Program provided us with a perfect opportunity for every one of us to acknowledge our need to grow and to do something concrete as a community of believers about it.
Conclusion
Please don’t lose this sense of needing to grow that we gained through LYCiG. Please don’t think I am alright, it is the others who need to do something about growth. If everyone does that, the “others” don’t eventuate. Look into your heart and ask yourself whether you are willing to be a part of the ongoing planting of the kingdom of God in this place. Please make the ongoing sacrifice of time and energy to recognise your and this parish’s need to be open to growth, open to the nurturing of God’s kingdom of love and peace. Please be a part of the future health of the gospel message in our part of the world.
“Truly, I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

Father Allan Paulsen
Parish Priest

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