Gospel Reading for the Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Mark 10:2-16
Notes on the Lectionary with Deacon Lincoln Anderson. Visit the series page at AnglicanCompass.com/NotesOnTheLectionary
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 10:14–16, ESV)
Believe Eagerly, With Childlike Acceptance
I am grateful for this lesson from Our Lord. This teaching reminds me of what it is to believe and to teach the Gospel. While this teaching often is presented as an exhortation for all believers to have simple faith, there is also important teaching for those who would lead.
Children typically come to new information with very trusting hearts. This makes them vulnerable in ways that frighten us, but it ultimately assures their survival. It is unfortunately true that wicked people take advantage of this vulnerability and corrupt, abuse, or otherwise torture the malleable minds of the young, but that is to the shame and reproach of the wicked, not the fault of children. Despite this, God still asks for our childlike trusting as regards his promises and commandments. Our Lord makes clear that those who abuse this vulnerability will not enter the Kingdom themselves.
God wants us to have a relationship with him as a young child with a loving and good Father. He wants our ultimate vulnerability – not so that he can take advantage of it, but so that we see his love for us clearly. He desires our trust and our innocence, so that we learn from hearing his voice only. This is what it means when Jesus says that we must receive the kingdom of God like a child.
Even the Hard Things
Perhaps the most difficult part of this teaching, as much as I appreciate it, is that this childlike trust holds for all of Jesus’ sayings, even the difficult ones. It should not be lost on us that this episode with Jesus extolling the virtues of childlike faith comes after a particularly difficult teaching on married relationships and the created order. The same Jesus who says “let the children come to me” also says “what God has joined together, let not man separate” and “from the beginning of creation ‘God made them male and female.'”
There are hard lessons which do require discernment and prayer to come to godly understanding on. Certainly the disciples were taken aback by Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage, as we see in Matthew’s account of this episode. Our task as children seeking our Lord is to trust his voice and not try to hold our reason above his commands. The call to receive as little children is not about blind trust which shuts out our God-given reason. It is instead about having open hearts which subject our reason to the Lord’s teachings. Where God grants, our reason leads us to see the wisdom in his saying. Where our reason rebels, we reprove it as a child reproves a mischief maker seeking to flout mother’s rules.
Do Not Hinder Them
This lesson is often presented to the congregation as an exhortation to have simple, childlike faith. I do not chiefly disagree with that. However, it strikes me that Jesus is not principally addressing the congregation (or, rather, the crowds) but the disciples who were acting as gatekeepers to Jesus, the would be leaders of the congregation.
As a deacon, I have a special call to preach and teach the Gospel – in large part, that’s what this column is about. I take this teaching as directed at me, and at all others who would be teachers and leaders in the Church. It is on us not to present the Gospel in such a way that childlike faith is tainted with suspicion and wariness.
When Jesus tells the disciples “do not hinder them,” he means it literally – the disciples were turning children away from coming to see him. We teachers can also hinder the children of God from coming to full relationship with him. Whenever we misrepresent the Gospel in a myriad of ways, we hold a warding hand up against those who would approach our Christ. Whenever we subject the Gospel to our own little doctrinal hills – rather than vice versa – we impede those bringing young children to be touched by Jesus.
“Keep O Lord Your Household the Church”
The Collect this week reflects an aspect of this lesson that we can pick up by inference if we pay attention. Another reason we are to receive the kingdom “like little children” is for the simple fact that we are not the adults in this relationship. The Kingdom, which is God’s Church, his household of faith, is not ours to protect and certainly not to gatekeep. It is God who protects and uplifts the Church in the midst of adversity. He may give us works to cooperate in that protection, but we ought never to act on our own on his behalf.
When we pray “Keep, O Lord, your Household the Church in continual godliness” we acknowledge that we, like little children, rely on our Father for his good provision and protection. I encourage you to pay special attention to this Collect this week, as the Church in many corners is faced with various adversities: persecutions, errors, scandal, and divisions. May these all be overcome so that not a single child of God is hindered from coming to sit at the feet of our Lord and to feel his blessed touch.