Mark 10: 13-16 – Jesus and Children: “Let the Children Come to Me”

The position of this narrative about Jesus and children is quite appropriate as it follows immediately after Jesus’ teaching on marriage (Mk 10: 2-12). The main point of Mark 10: 13-16 lies in the solemn pronouncement of Jesus: “Truly, I say to you whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mk 10: 15).

As elsewhere, here too, the Markan narrative is colourful and lively. Children were brought to Jesus to be touched and blessed by him. But the disciples intervened and rebuked those who brought them to Jesus. We are not told why the disciples rebuked them. It may be that the disciples’ behaviour was in conformity with the contemporary Jewish attitude to children who were considered unimportant and who were not given a place in society. But Jesus did not approve of the disciples’ behaviour or their attitude to children. He was indignant at his disciples and he said to them: “let the children come to me” (Mk 10: 14). He even took the children in his arms and blessed them (Mk 10: 16). Mark thus emphasises the contrast between the attitude of Jesus and that of the disciples towards children.

Jesus not only welcomes children but goes further and says that children are true models of those who belong to the Kingdom of God and that anyone who does not receive the Kingdom as a child receives it cannot enter it (Mk 10: 14-15). The phrase “to receive the kingdom of God” is unique in the gospels and it may reflect the early Christian missionary usage. Jesus demands from all, the attitude of children, namely, receptivity, trust, openness, simplicity, etc., in order to receive the gift of Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is spoken of here as a gift which one receives and, as a state, a sphere or life one enters into. Elsewhere the Kingdom of God also means eternal life and that is why Jesus sets conditions for entrance into the Kingdom (cf. Mk 9: 42-48; 10: 17-31). Probably, it is in this sense that we must understand the words of Jesus in Mark 10: 15 about entering the Kingdom. Here it is the attitude of children that is required of everyone for entering the Kingdom. In Mark 10: 15 then, which speaks of “receiving the kingdom” and “entering the kingdom,” Jesus presents the Kingdom of God both as a gift and a task. Children with their characteristic qualities of trust, dependence and simplicity are shown to be models of those who receive and enter the Kingdom of God.

We may also observe here that probably Mark 10: 13-16 had been greatly influenced in the early Church’s practice of infant baptism. Not only Jesus’ attitude to children, but also his words, “let the children come to me do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mk 10: 14) were understood by the early Church as indicative of Jesus’ mind with regard to infant baptism. Besides, the word ‘hinder’ which occurs in Jesus’ saying (Mk 10: 14 “do not hinder them”) is associate with infant baptism in the early Church (cf. Acts 8: 38; 10: 47; 11: 17). By introducing and continuing the practice if infant baptism the Church actualises the will of Jesus who declared that infants and little children are full members of the Kingdom of God.

Reflection

Jesus again introduces another scale of values. The disciples of Jesus had absorbed the attitude of a society which considered children as ‘nobody.’ But Jesus does not confirm himself to this attitude. Children represent for Jesus the weak and the powerless in our society. Only when we give importance to such as these we can be signs of the Kingdom of God.

It is in becoming powerless that we become capable of belonging to the Kingdom of God and of serving those who are powerless.

To remain small means to acknowledge one’s own nothingness, to expect all from the Good Lord as a small child expects all from his father, not to be worried about anything” (St. Therese).

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