April 4, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Mark 10:13-16.
And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.
This reminds of babies thrust toward politicians to buss or children pushed toward the Pope or other religious figure to be touched and, thus, blessed. As if something in their touch could rub off on them or maybe it’s just the nearness to celebrity that excites parents. The disciples tried to bring some order to the scene, to shield Jesus from the pestering intrusions of all these strange people who wanted to be able to boast to friends and family that Jesus, the prophet and wonder worker, had touched their child. That the child was thereby special in some magical way.
But Jesus saw something different. He saw children who were eager to be near him, whose eyes brightened as the sight of him, who giggled shyly in his gaze. They were trusting and receptive, open to be touched, to be blessed.
The choice of words by translators is interesting and can subtly change the intended meaning. The Douay-Rheims version of the Bible, the first to be translated from Latin, uses the phrase “whoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child” while the New Jerusalem Bible states, “anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child.” Accept, receive, welcome. Accept, to me, seems somewhat passive, offering no resistance to something that is offered or without fighting or denying the reality of a situation. Receive has more the connotation of taking in. Welcome, on the other hand, seems like an eager invitation, an attitude of generous hospitality.
Children generally are eager for attention, for embrace. Those seem to be the qualities that Jesus alludes to here. So, welcome seems the better choice here to convey Jesus’ meaning. The kingdom of God will not be thrust upon us; it is not a force that will overcome our reluctance or resistance. It is opened to those who welcome it, who eagerly embrace what Jesus has taught us about love and service. It is an attitude of invitation to God’s spirit. Those are the people who labor to bring about God’s kingdom, who God ushers in.
The disciples here remind me of an article in the paper the other day about our new Pope Francis. It seems that he is giving his security entourage fits because of his propensity to wade into crowds even outside the protective walls of the Vatican. Jesus was the same way; he always often in the midst of crowds, of people wanting to touch him and to be touched, to be healed, to be cleansed. People pressed upon him from all sides despite the efforts of his disciples. There was also a photo of Pope Francis leaning to kiss the face of an obviously developmentally disabled man. That, too, illustrates the loving embrace of Jesus of children, little ones who lacked power and status, the crippled in spirit and body. Jesus loved and loves even the most unlovely and unlovable. I like this Pope so far. To me he comes closer to my image of Jesus than any other I’m familiar with. That’s the model we need in our world and in our Church. Who wouldn’t want to be embraced and blessed by a man like that just as these children welcomed the touch and blessing of Jesus?