16 March 2024

A Kingdom for such as these

Lieutenant Kat Whitmore

Lieutenant Kat Whitmore reminds us that Jesus has time for children.

Key text

‘All of us enter the Kingdom of God as infants. There is no other way than utter dependence upon the unmerited love of God and his gracious acceptance of us’ (New Beacon Bible Commentary).

In our study passage, we see Jesus turning his attention to children. ‘Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity,’ wrote French philosopher Simone Weil in a letter to a friend in 1942. Reflect on that idea for a moment.

In the busyness of the day, people were bringing their little ones to Jesus, asking him to touch and bless them. The disciples tried to stop them, acting as self-appointed gatekeepers to the Lord. Why did they do this? Did they want Jesus’ attention for themselves? Did they underestimate Jesus’ capacity to love and take time for all people, deciding to restrict access so Jesus could be with those who had more pressing needs or higher status?

Whatever the reason, Jesus was ‘indignant’ (v14). It’s little surprise: he’s told them before that children have value (see Mark 9:36 and 37) and he’s also repeatedly demonstrated, through the way that he lives and the people he spends time with, that he has time for all sorts of people.

Pause and reflect

  • Are there times when our actions or practices might stop children from encountering Jesus?
  • Consider the children who are part of your corps. How does the environment and life of the corps allow children full, unrestricted access to Jesus?

In literally taking the children in his arms, Jesus affirms their worth and confirms that there is no barrier stopping them entering his presence and encountering him, receiving his full attention.

As he so often does, Jesus takes this incident and uses it to teach something further about the Kingdom of God. Is this passage about children? Yes, it is. But is it only about children? Certainly not! Jesus has much more to reveal to us about his Kingdom here. Specifically, that ‘the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these’ (v14) – to all those who are like children.

A photo shows three children sat on some grass by a large body of water.

Mark 10:16

And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

Read Mark 10

In my readings of this passage in the past, I’ve often wondered what it is about children that means the Kingdom of God would belong to those who are like them. There are romantic ideas and generalisations out there about children, such as their wide-eyed awe and wonder at new discoveries, or their willingness to believe. We might think of children’s ability to simply trust, their uncomplicated nature or their playfulness and power to imagine.

Much of this may be true; a capacity to trust and find joy in new discoveries and revelations can certainly help us when we consider life with God. Being like a child in this way is a helpful start in approaching the Kingdom of God.

However, if we put aside our 21st-century view of childhood and consider children through the eyes of those living alongside Jesus in the ancient world, there is more to uncover about what Jesus is really saying to his disciples.

In the 1st century, children were among the least important in society. They were held in low esteem, given little value and they had very few rights. So when Jesus told his disciples that the Kingdom of God belongs ‘to such as these’, they wouldn’t have understood that as meaning treasured, innocent and playful children because they simply didn’t view children in that way. Jesus’ message to the disciples was that the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are ‘least’ – who are forgotten or downtrodden in society and who are seemingly unimportant and insignificant.

Pause and reflect

  • Who are the insignificant or forgotten people in your community or in wider society?
  • What does Jesus have to say to these people?
  • How can you make sure that they know?

A small detail that might be easily overlooked in this passage is that the children being brought to Jesus were ‘little’ (v13). The Greek word used is paidia, implying that they were infants or toddlers. Jesus doesn’t overlook that point but highlights it, using the young age of the children to teach his listeners about who can enter the Kingdom of God. And this time, he makes it clear that it’s only people who enter like a little child.

So how might a little child enter the Kingdom of God? In verse 15, Jesus tells us they ‘receive’ it. A young child can do little more than that. They come empty-handed, unable to buy their way in with money or earn entry with skills, good deeds or qualifications. They can’t use clever words or even articulate a prayer to secure their place in God’s Kingdom. With empty, open hands, they can only receive.

Jesus says that is how we are all to enter God’s Kingdom – by receiving it as a gift. We cannot earn our place, buy our way in or persuade God to accept us using words. In fact, Jesus goes on to explain in Mark 10:17–27 that some of these things make it harder to enter the Kingdom.

Jesus has done all that needs to be done to ensure we can be with him in his Kingdom. Not because of anything in us, but because of everything that is in him: love, expressed in abundant grace.

Pause and reflect

  • Take time to meditate on our study passage. Do we sometimes slip into thinking we must prove why we deserve to be included in God’s Kingdom?
  • Can we recognise our empty-handedness, and allow ourselves simply to receive God’s invitation into life with him?
  • Spend time in prayer, listening and responding as God leads.

Bible study by

A photo of Kat Whitmore.

Lieutenant Kat Whitmore

Territorial Youth and Children’s Secretary, THQ

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