This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
New English Translation (NET)
Jesus and Little Children
13 Then little children were brought to him for him to lay his hands on them and pray. But the disciples scolded those who brought them. 14 But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not try to stop them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 And he placed his hands on them and went on his way.
The Rich Young Man
16 Now someone came up to him and said, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to gain eternal life?” 17 He said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 “Which ones?” he asked. Jesus replied, “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “I have wholeheartedly obeyed all these laws. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 But when the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he was very rich.
The incident with the children is deservedly famous and often used in a sentimental way, meaning that Jesus is for children rather than adults. Jewish children at the time of Jesus had no rights, and although they were included in the family rituals of faith, such as Passover, were probably not considered fit for the ” yoke of the Torah” until the age of 13.
Jesus quite specifically states that they are ready for the “rule of God” which he announces. They are equal partners with adults in understanding, accepting and enjoying the goodness of God in their own lives. This rule of God has no hierarchy of power by which children are sidelined. The value of this perspective is even now just beginning to be understood in our programmes of education, social care and child protection. Individual acts of disrespect, cruelty and neglect, come from the acceptance of a hierarchy in which children are valuable principally as the property of their parents. In this matter, as in others, Jesus was revolutionary.
The second story also features Jesus demolishing a hierarchy. The young man believes in a hierarchy of decent people whom God blesses with wealth because of their decency. He wants to be as high up this hierarchy as he can be, and so he asks someone he considers a top man in the decency business. “What good thing must I do to gain eternal life?” Eternal life, that is the life of the “age to come”.a better, more splendid life, he sees as requiring a top up of goodness. Jesus cuts him off at the knees, “There is only one who is good,” meaning God, and tells him to keep the commandments. The young man is ready for this because after all he has made a genuine effort to be decent. He tells Jesus truthfully he has kept the commandments. Then Jesus uses the man’s own perspective, suggesting that there’s just one little thing more that he has to add to his stock of goodness, namely selling his property, giving the proceeds to the poor and becoming a disciple of Jesus. As the final item to complete (“perfect”) the man’s obedience, Jesus tells him to turn his life upside down! All the work he has done to gain a standing in the world is brought tumbling down. All the same, Jesus does accept that the young man “lacks” this grace and will benefit from the radical change he proposes. He is not trying to bring him down but to build him up. The young man’s sorrow at refusing shows that he is sticking to his hierarchy of decency and cannot see where his true happiness lies.
A much more stringent version of this story will be found at Mark chapter 10: 17.Matthew makes little changes in using Mark’s account, softening it here and there. Mark tells us the young man addressed Jesus as “Good Master” and that Jesus rebuffed him with “Why call me good? Nobody is good except God alone” Matthew didn’t like Jesus’ refusal to be called good. In Mark it is Jesus who tells the man, “you lack one thing.” Mark also adds the detail, “Jesus looked at him affectionately.” But the point of both versions is the same: the rich man cannot add “eternal life” to his list of possessions, because the state of possessing far more than most people, undermines his sincerity: goodness requires trust, Jesus says; it’s a question of what you rely on. You can rely on God, on goodness itself, or you can rely on wealth. The question is not how philanthropic we can be with our wealth, but whether we we hold on to it, or not.
Jesus did not advocate absolute poverty from his followers. Doubtless, when he was a local builder, he expected his bills to be paid, just as his fishermen disciples were paid for their catch. Clearly the donations and hospitality of working people made Jesus’ ministry possible. But he did demand a trust in God’s goodness and a readiness to put livelihood at risk for the sake of working for that goodness. All of which is very far from the kind of league table of good deeds envisaged by the rich young man.
This is of the essence of Jesus’ message and of special relevance to an affluent society about to prepare for Christmas as the feast of conspicuous consumption.