Theology Behind Jesus and Children

The mentioning of children with Jesus in the Gospel has a very important message to convey with regard to our faith and our closeness to God. [This theme of children is very much spoken by the preachers but I fear it was very rarely interpreted in the manner the evangelists wanted to be conveyed].

On a few occasions we find Jesus with the children and Jesus speaking about them.

On the first occasion we find the scene where Jesus responds to the disciples’ dispute over who is first among them by placing a child in their midst. Taking the child into his arms Jesus says, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (Mk 9, 33-37). Here we find Jesus identifies himself with the child. Actually he himself has become small like a child. As Son Jesus does nothing of himself, but he acts wholly from the Father and for the Father – very act of every child.

The passage that follows a few verses later can also be understood on this basis (Mk 9, 42). Here Jesus speaks no longer of children, but of “little ones.” The term “little ones” designates believers, the company of the disciples of Jesus Christ. In the faith they have found the true littleness that leads humankind into its truth (Mk 9, 42-50).

Now we move on to the second occasion which brings out further the meaning of the place of children in the Gospel message.

For this purpose we look into Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew gives us an important text concerning the reception of Jesus in Jerusalem. After the cleansing of the Temple, the children in the Temple repeat the words of homage: “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Mt 21, 15). Jesus further defends the children’s joyful acclamation against the criticism of the chief priests and the scribes by quoting Psalm 8: “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast brought perfect praise” (Ps 8, 2). With this Psalm verse Jesus actually opened up a much broader salvation – historical perspective.

The meaning of Jesus’ quoting of Psalm 8 becomes clear if we recall the story recounted by the Synoptic narrators in which children were brought to Jesus “that he might touch them” (Mk 10, 13). Despite the resistance of the disciples, who wanted to protect him from this imposition, Jesus calls the children to him, lays his hands on them, and blesses them. He explains this gesture with the words: “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” (Mk 10, 14-16). I hope this also clears the understanding of what Jesus meant when he says, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go though the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Mk 10, 24-25).

The children serve Jesus as an example of the littleness before God that is necessary in order to pass through the “eye of the needle” (into the kingdom of God) the image that he used immediately afterward in the story of the rich young man (Mk 10, 17-27).

This brings us back to the meaning of the children’s “Hosanna” in the light of Psalm 8 in Matthew’s Gospel. The praise of these children appears as an anticipation of the great outpouring of praise that Jesus’ “little ones” will sing to him far beyond the present time. It points to the actions and worship of Jesus’ disciples in the future time and of the Church of Christ.

It would be right for the believers, then, to read this scene as an anticipation of what he or she does in his or her worship. For the early Church, “Palm Sunday” was not a thing of the past. Just as Jesus entered Jerusalem that day on a Colt, so too the believers who constitute the Church saw him coming again and again in the humble form of Bread and Wine. The believers greet Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread and in the sharing of the cup of wine, as the one who is coming now, the one who has entered into their midst. At the same time, the gathered believers greet Christ as the one who continues to come, the one who leads us toward his coming. As pilgrims, we go up to him; as a pilgrim, he comes to us and takes us up with him in his “ascent” to the Cross and Resurrection, to the definitive Jerusalem which is already initiated and growing in our midst in the communion of Breaking of Bread that unites every believer with Jesus’ body.

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