adult holding newborn baby hand

Welcoming a child

We know that the Gospel accounts include episodes where we see Jesus placing a firm emphasis on the place and value of children.

“We see Jesus blessing children, embracing them, rebuking those who turn them away, healing them and lifting them up as models of faith,” writes Marcia Bunge in “Toddling to the Kingdom” (The Child Theology Movement Limited, 2009).

In Mark 9:33-37 Jesus teaches that welcoming a child is synonymous with welcoming him, and in Matthew 18:6 he issues a stark warning to his disciples: “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung round their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (NIVUK). Jesus unmistakably has a view on accountability and, on this occasion, links it to the way in which adults care for children.

Reflecting on Matthew 18 and the implications it has for any follower of Jesus, Keith White concludes in “The Child and the Bible” that “you cannot follow (and that includes welcoming and accepting) Jesus without welcoming children. You cannot reject (and that includes refusing and marginalizing) children without rejecting Jesus.”

The Gospel of Mark includes few references to Jesus being “indignant.” The fact that the Mark 10:13-16 account of people bringing little children to Jesus is one of those few references can only leave us to assume that the cause of such a strong response from Jesus was a reaction to the disciples’ behavior toward the children in their presence: the rebuke the disciples directed at the children provoked a firm rebuke in their own direction from Jesus.

Jesus took the spirituality of children very seriously. The Gospel narratives testify that there was no hint of him viewing their need of or response to him in any kind of lesser way than the need or response of any other person. It is a call for us to do the same and to try to think through the full implications of doing so.

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