“Let the little children come to me.”
Many of our churches were built in the Victorian era. The social architecture of the Victorian period required that children were ‘seen and not heard’. In Jesus’s time children were not even seen. His was a patriarchal culture. Men ruled, women were second place (at best) and children were ignored.
The touch of Jesus was considered so powerful that the people couldn’t help but bring their children to Him to be blessed, in much the same way as we bring children at the communion rail for a blessing week-by-week. Jesus’s immediate disciples – all men – were bothered by this intrusion. We can imagine them shooing the children away. Dismissing them as a mere nuisance.
Jesus, we read, is indignant – that is more than cross. “Let them come to me”, He says, “for the Kingdom of God belongs to them”.
In their innocence children are more in-touch with the divine-image within. In Matthew chapter 18, verse 10, Jesus is recorded as saying, “Beware that you don’t look down on any of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father.” Young children receive everything with an untrammelled sense of openness, joy and wonder, enthralled as they are with the beauty of creation.
Yesterday at Christ Church Cafe Church, one little boy was so taken with the Harvest story, that he repeatedly shouted out the words as he heard them. “Ladder!!!” “Plums!!!” We might have been a tempted to ‘sshhh’ him, but thankfully we didn’t. Instead we laughed along, bouncing off his joy. It was truly wonder-full. In that moment the Kingdom of God belonged to this little boy.
“Truly I tell you”, says Jesus, “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
We are all God’s children. When people approach the very end of their lives they can often revert back to childhood ways. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Its as if we start life as children and we end life as children. Vulnerable. Yet, the truth is, we are always children in God’s sight. Life, and modern life in particular, squeezes the child-likeness out of us. We become more closed-minded, and closed-hearted. The world around us seems to lose its sense of awe and wonder. Our natural joy is replaced by an unnatural cynicism. At least I know that has been true in my case.
Many years ago when I was in my mid-twenties I had a powerful encounter with the Living Christ. I knew it was Jesus, because I had called out to Him from a place of desperation. My attempts at being an ‘adult’ had failed and I was literally vulnerable to His love. This encounter took place in the dead of night. The following morning I woke up and everything had changed. I took a walk in the countryside where I lived. It was like scales had been lifted off my eyes. Like I was seeing creation for the first time. I was, in the words, of C.S.Lewis (who had a similar encounter), “Surprised by Joy”.
Some people call this kind of experience ‘Being Born Again’. I can go along with that. Encountering Christ personally (as an adult) for the first time was for me a spiritual rebirth. A recovering of something lost from childhood. Receiving the Kingdom as a child.