For most children, the reading that will enthral them, and so it should, is only one part of this week’s RCL Gospel reading, Mark verses 13-16. What child does not want to hear that they are welcome especially when there are so many places that they receive the very clear message that they can’t go in or attend because they are not old enough.
Just as importantly it has a very clear message for adults, not just in how to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but also it demonstrates a strong social justice picture for adults to emulate in their dealings with children and those that are less powerful then themselves.
In recent times, many congregations have found different ways to welcome children, or some have them participate in the whole service and some have even become Intergenerational, a deliberate act of integrating all ages in all aspects of community living and worship, because of the renewed interest from this passage and similar ones in the other Gospels, along with other readings on children in the Kingdom of God. So, whether children are worshipping in a congregation where they are included or not, this passage is still important for them to hear the word of God itself proclaiming that Jesus called the children to Him and chastised the adults from keeping them from Him. It is a significant passage and in my humble opinion deserves to be read and spoken about on its own.
But it is paired with Mark 10:2-12, a passage that doesn’t have as much of an impact for any listening child. And yet it is a beautifully thoughtful pairing. Let’s remove all modern interpretations of this passage and return to the time it was written, a period in history where men would sit around a teacher, listening and questioning what he is saying, women were not a part of these teaching sessions, so we are to assume that this passage really is for male ears, but I think the women would be very impressed with what was being discussed. Jewish Divorce was easy, a matter of being displeased with your wife for any reason, denouncing her in public and she is left, without her children, without accommodation and without an honourable income. Divorce was just as easy in the dominating culture of the times too.
When I review these two stories, the commonality here is that both passages are about power and the use or misuse of it. Men had the power to keep women safe, and the disciples had the power to decide who approached Jesus. Just as an interesting aside, it is the Mother’s we are told who are bringing the children to Jesus in Verses 13-16, in Jewish tradition it would be the father who presents the child, the male child, at the Temple. In today’s world these speak of social injustices and they are spoken directly to those with the power. If we are too look forward to the application of, especially the first verses, then it is not a teaching on morals so much as a teaching on social justice, on the use and abuse of power and these are still issues that are with us today. If it were not so we would not have seen the significance of the Me Too or the Black Lives Matter Movements. Who are the gatekeepers? Who has the power? Who keeps the children away from Christ’s teachings and being a full participant in the Christian Community? Divorce still leaves women, bereft of housing, superannuation, dignity. Where are other areas of injustice and who are the gatekeepers for them in your community?
Today’s Gospel reading, not just tells the children that they are welcome, it warns everyone of misusing the power they have, and that is a message we all need to hear.
I am writing this on Wurundjeri land and wish to pay respect to all Elders, past, present and emerging.