Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’ And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.
In this simple passage, conjuring up memories of Sunday School pictures, we see Jesus doing several radical things.
He challenges the disciples’ views in the same way he confronts opposition in many Gospel stories. Perhaps the disciples saw the pushy parents as wanting to waste Jesus’ time: the passage is at the start of Matthew’s Passion narrative when tension would be high. Jesus gives a model for putting people and their needs high on the agenda and making time for pastoral care.
He shows care for children in this and other passages; think of when he heals children from disease, demons and even death. The practice of parents blessing children is seen throughout the Old Testament. In Jesus’ time there was a practice of fathers taking their children to the local synagogue and joining in prayer over the child with the elders. However the scribes and Pharisees would never physically touch anyone in the belief it would defile them. Jesus lays his hands on the children and prays. What does he pray? – well, the Jewish tradition still kept today is for parents to bless their children every Shabbat evening with the words from the Aaronic blessing in Numbers
May God bless you and protect you May God show you favour and be gracious to you May God show you kindness and grant you peace
He teaches humility – as a child relies on a parent for daily needs we should humbly depend on God. He challenges the belief at the time that God’s favour was to be earned by good works and keeping undefiled, when he says the Kingdom of heaven belongs to children who were not old enough to do these things. Instead he is demonstrating a radical idea of grace: the gift of God’s favour that is undeserved.
For all the children known to us, in our families, churches, work, schools, youth groups and wherever we meet them, let us pray:
May God bless you and protect you May God show you favour and be gracious to you May God show you kindness and grant you peace. Amen.