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.
In his effort to restructure community life through the new social reality called the kingdom of God, Jesus draws the most vulnerable in community life, the children, to the center. We are again confronted with what it means to have the “last” be “first.” “This episode for the second time illustrates the way of nonviolence by reversing the normal socio-cultural assumptions about status, elevating the ‘last’ to ‘first.’ And certainly the child represented the ‘least of the least’ (Myers, 267).”
Jesus is building community and relationships. Here he is doing intentional teaching to confront the foundational level of relationship development - the family. Children had no place in society. They could not aid the family’s honor in a positive way and they could not contribute to the family’s well-being through the generation of resources. So they were marginalized. If there was a broken parental relationship, the marginalization was greater.
Jesus gets to the heart of the issue by placing the child at the center of the familial relationship for the new social reality called the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God belongs to the children because it holds a place for them in the community. There is new opportunity for their future with this social reality.
In order to break the system of violence and create space for relationships to develop in a healthy manner, the children need to have a foundational role. Children learn and internalize the practices and mindsets that they experience with great frequency. If there is an abusive system in the home, they are impacted greatly and often in ways that they cannot express. The pain is internalized and eventually explodes outward, though not at the cause of the pain. The pain is often directed at the self of another in a vulnerable state - their own child. So they cycle is repeated.
Jesus creates pathway that places the child at the center of building relationships and structuring the new social reality. I realize this may sound idealize, but there is some psychology behind it.
Myers cites Alice Miller and sums up some of her work on abusive systems and how they impact children:
“The legacy of this drama (cycle of domination of children by parents) is twofold, psychic and social, for the adult will both introject and project the deep pain and anger that is stored from childhood. The personal cost is manifested in depression and various forms of despair. The social cost is manifested through oppression, the concrete reproduction of intrapersonal violence (Myers, 269).”
By focusing on children, giving them space in the family life and life of the community, the cycle can be broken. The children are given a place to work our their frustrations, fear, and anger, instead of internalizing it. The goal is to create a healthy system at its foundation - the family. This is part of the promise of the new social reality that Jesus calls the kingdom of God.
To receive the kingdom as a child is to be vulnerable in our relationships with one another, open about the pain we experience from each other, open about the joy we experience from one another, dependent on each other for support and resources, and trusting that we are working for each other’s well-being.
The is all part of the nonviolent, direct action of the ministry of Jesus. End the cycle of violence where it can start - the family.
“A new social order cannot be constructed unless and until we have dealt with the very foundations of oppression: ‘It is part of the tragic nature of the repetition compulsion that someone who hopes eventually to find a better world than the one he or she experienced as a child in fact keeps creating instead the same undesired state of affairs (Myers, 270).’”
“The centrals syllogism of the section understands the liberation as a matter of invitation: ‘“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me (9:37); whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it (10:15) (Myers, 270-71).”
Questions for Modern-Day Disciples
- How to we create space for children in our midst (family, community, church)?
- How do we model healthy relationships for children?
- How do we create space for children to share anger, frustration, and fear in a healthy way?