15 People brought him babies to touch; but when the disciples saw the people doing this, they rebuked them. 16 However, Yeshua called the children to him and said, “Let the children come to me, and stop hindering them, because the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Yes! I tell you that whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will not enter it at all!”
This is the first day of my time off duty from my ministry, and although my duties are light these days, I feel a sense of freedom. I will have more time for pleasures, such as running, hill-walking, and yes, blogging.
Perhaps it’s a suitable moment to remind myself and my readers of what I’m doing as a blogger.
Four days a week I write a bible blog, which involves reading the passage in Hebrew or Greek, selecting or making an appropriate English translation, and providing a commentary on it, from my point of view as a disciple of Jesus. I use the word disciple rather than believer, for although I share Christian beliefs, I think the beliefs should flow from practical obedience rather than the other way round. For some time now I have been working through the Gospel of Luke chapter by chapter, starting on December 14th 2015. Readers who want a continuous commentary on this gospel could start from that date ( check archives).
Two days a week I write a different blog expressing more directly my view of what discipleship of Jesus entails. It can be found at: xtremejesus.co
Back to business:
Luke has used the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector to introduce a section of his gospel which is based on material from Mark chapter 10 which he is using as his source at this point. In that chapter Mark brings together a variety of incidents focused on Jesus call to humility and solidarity with those who have no power. On the case of the story about the little children, Luke follows Mark quite carefully, while as always, tidying up what he regards as poor grammar or vocabulary. For example he changed the word Mark uses for the children, paidia, to the Greek brefe, meaning babies. The Markan version preserves the ambiguity between actual little ones and the disciples of Jesus, whom he called little ones. Luke corrects this because he wants to give a clear picture of babes-in-arms, who represent utter powerlessness.
The disciples’ refusal of the babies shows their conventional lack of understanding. They think they are engaged in the serious adult business of religion in which babies can have no part. Jesus, on the contrary, is open to the babies for their own sake and because they represent all who have no status, wealth or power, but welcome God’s Rule. Jesus firmly states that only those who abandon all advantage can belong to God’s Rule. This devastating utterance is prefaced in his original language with Jesus’ solemn phrase, “Amen, amen,” words which usually express agreement with what has been said, but which Jesus uses at the start of a declaration in which he, as it were, agrees with a prior utterance of God.
I think Jesus meant what he said, and that the kind of church community described in Acts chapter 4, where believers shared possessions so that nobody went without necessities, was a true response to what he commanded. I have lived a fairly modest life in material terms, and have tried to obey this teaching, but I have always had basic financial security and occasional luxuries to fall back on; while most church communities I know contain only one class of people, richer or poorer.
In a nation where a substantial proportion ( at least 20%) of children are born into poverty and grow up in poverty, the church might well consider that Jesus’ blessing on them is not fully represented by baptising them. To identify with the children of the world and to their common need to share its goods would be a more adequate representation, especially at a time when adult reluctance to let go of cherished luxuries is jeopardising the life chances of their children and grandchildren.
Some radical commentators sees this identification as a political necessity for the churches, and of course the gospel always has political implications; but I want to declare it first and foremost as an evangelical necessity: we don’t belong to God’s Rule until we receive it as children, that is, as those who have no status, wealth or power. The best people I know have made this humilty one of the joys of their living.