There are cultural efforts to counteract this, of course. Commercial forces have tried to make Easter about candy, stuffed animals, baskets, and candy (did I mention candy?); things that would be attractive to children.
I don’t think it has to be this way. I don’t think children need to be left out of our Lenten season.
The second stage of Mark’s record of Jesus’ final Journey to Jerusalem tells this story:
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)
This is a remarkable story for several reasons. First, there seems to be a desire from “people” (parents) to introduce their children to Jesus. They have heard him teach and heal, and they want him to lay hands on him as a blessing. Yet this is not an elderly, grandfatherly person. This is not like having your child sit on Santa’s lap in the mall. This is a Galilean man in his 30s with a big bushy beard, a bachelor with no children of his own. Mark wants us to know that Jesus was/is attractive to children. May we never make him unattractive to these little ones.
Second, the disciples block access to Jesus for these parents and children. I want to think this is well-intended, but I’m not sure. It comes across as an undervaluing and underestimating of a child’s capacity to love and appreciate Jesus. May we never doubt the sincerity of childlike faith and love for Jesus.
Third, Jesus is having none of it. He opens his arms and the “kingdom of God” to the little ones. Christian faith is not for adults alone. Those who advise waiting for children to grow to adulthood before making faith commitments are as guilty as the hindering disciples. May we be Jesus’ open arms to even the youngest child in our communities.
Fourth, and most remarkably of all, Jesus reverses the roles in his world to say that we should look to children for understanding. They are his example of the ideal kingdom members. In the church, we are often experts in making the simple complex. We want sophistication, not innocence. In this Lenten season, may we strive to strip away the tedious history we have allowed to encumber our faith. If we are asked, “What is your relationship with Jesus?” may our answer not be “it’s complicated.” Just say, “I love him with all my heart.”
The end of this story is that Jesus obliges by giving a blessing to the children. A “blessing” in this sense mean both approval and support rather than condemnation and criticism. So, as we come to the second Sunday in Lent, take this assignment: find a child in your sphere of influence and give her a blessing. You will make Jesus smile.
Nebraska Christian College
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