Jesus Blesses Little Children
13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The World Behind the Text
The world of the author’s community
See general introduction to the Gospel of Mark.
This text contains a number of ‘social’ levels.
Society at the time of Jesus valued adult men, male children, then adult women and female children. Slaves or servants came last.
Divorce could only be instigated by the husband, who could divorce his wife by issuing a decree saying he no longer wanted her. Women had no right to divorced their husbands.
It is of note that this passage comes directly after Jesus teaching about divorce. Divorced women became vulnerable and unprotected in Jewish society. This carries this sense of vulnerability to another group of the vulnerable, children.
At the time of Jesus, the custom of having children blessed by a Rabbi was a long held tradition coming from the time when Jacob blessed his grandsons by laying hands on them (Gen 48:14-16). At the time it was the fathers who were had the responsibility for the spiritual development of the children (Deut 6:4-7, Eph 6:4) It is most probable that it was the fathers who were bringing the children to Jesus as the spiritual heads of the household.
Children (those under the age of 12) were seen as weak and powerless and of lesser importance, hence the disciples trying to stop the children being brought to Jesus to be blessed.
The world of the text
The story of Jesus blessing the children sits as part of a suite of teachings about welcoming God and being faithful to what God is asking and greatness (Mk 9:33- 10:31). and is sandwiched between two predictions of Jesus’ death. It is written in narrative structure, with a beginning a middle, together with a problem, which is resolved in the end.
We find Jesus and the disciples in a house in the region of Judea beyond the Jordan (Mk 10:1). Jesus had finished and encounter with some Pharisees (Mk 10:2) and a debriefing with his disciples, (Mk 10:10).
As you begin the text you will notice that it is written in continuous present tense giving the impression that there were a considerable number of people bringing their children forward to be blessed. This may have annoyed the disciples who were still perhaps talking with Jesus about his teaching on divorce. They spoke sternly to the people bringing the children but Jesus becomes “indignant” and chides the disciples telling them that if they want to enter the Kingdom they will have to be open to the embrace of the Lord just as the little children the fathers were bringing to be blessed were open (Mk 10:15). He then takes them in his arms and blesses them.
The idea of Jesus taking them in his arms would suggest that the children presented where around 5 or 6 years of age highlighting their powerlessness and need of protection (Mk 10:16). Jesus also challenges the idea of people being too self-reliant and in the gesture of embrace and blessing he highlights the need to be like a child who has complete trust in a parent to love and care for them as they cannot care for themselves independently. They are not self-reliant and need to be cared for as they are vulnerable and powerless.
Inviting the indignant disciples challenges their view of themselves as those with status: here Jesus commends those among the most vulnerable…this would not have been an easy message for The 12 to take on. This text therefore serves to further develop Mark’s view of discipleship.
Questions for the teacher:
The world in front of the text
Questions for the teacher:
Please reflect on these questions before reading this section and then use the material below to enrich your responsiveness to the text.
Meaning for today/challenges
The ‘character contrast’ in this text warrants serious attention. It alerts us to the flip side to this story of love and welcome.
Children are easily victims of disrespect, abuse and exploitation, sometimes accidently and sometimes deliberately. Children repress these feelings to the point where the hurt is forgotten. Often it is not until they are parents themselves that this pattern of disrespect remerges, and the cycle continues. Jesus in welcoming and blessing the children extends the love of God to the child perhaps still hurting in us as adults. The children in the text are welcomed by Jesus, not sent away, they are shown complete love and attention and he was delighted to do so. His message is a reminder that if we wish to enter the Kingdom, we must learn to delight in the knowledge that God delights in us as his children.
It is also interesting to ponder what images we put forward of Jesus and the children as portrayed in Mark. Mark includes families, the “they”, in his narrative. The art of the past seems to understand this as shown below. The more contemporary images of this story tend to exclude the connection between Jesus and the families to which they belong.