Sunday, November 19, 2006

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 10
13People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

In my quest to understand the true nature of children, I turned to the wisdom of the ages as presented in nursery rhymes. Let’s begin with the girls:

Mary Mary quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row.

This doesn’t tell us much. Apparently the Mary in the poem is Mary Tutor, a.k.a. Bloody Mary and “silver bells and cockle shells” were instruments of torture used on Protestants. This may not help us.

Let’s turn to the boys:

Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie;
Kissed the girls and made them cry.
When the boys came out to play,
Georgie Porgie ran away.

Hmmmm. In this case, the Georgie in question is George, the Duke of Buckingham, who had a weakness for the wives of other noblemen. Hence, “when the boys came out to play, Georgie Porgie ran away. Again, not very helpful in understanding the nature of children.

What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice, and everything nice:
That what little girls are made of.
What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails, and puppy dog's tails,
That's what little boys are made of.

Perhaps this is not the most helpful source of information. In our lesson this morning Jesus says “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” If this is our starting point, than we need to figure out what it means to “receive the Kingdom like a little child.” Are their special qualities we can adopt? Is there a previous state we can reenter?

One commentator cautioned against creating a list of supposed of child virtues and expecting people to live them out. What would we put on such a list? Openness, trust, innocence…several words spring to mind, and all of them can be questioned based on our experience. As a parent, and having worked as a daycare cook, I can tell you that things aren’t as rosy as we’d like to believe. Recall the toddler who has discovered the word “no” and then eat your words about kids being all sweet and open and innocent.

We do know that children are largely powerless. If they set out to earn their place in the Kingdom of God, they have little or no leverage to do so. And in this sense we can see the context of Jesus’ statement. If you approach the Kingdom as something that cannot be earned or won, as a child would, then you are on the right path. If you recall the disciples argument regarding greatness and who would sit at the right hand of Jesus in the life to come, we can see the need to approach this question in a different way. Children do not have the strength or power or connections an adult may have and can only offer themselves to the Kingdom. (Craddock, p. 204)


On March 18, 1958, Thomas Merton went into the city near his monastic home to do a little shopping. He wrote these words:

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the centre of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.

It was a remarkable event in a remarkable life. We need to admire first his candor, sharing a discovery of his common humanity after years of study and contemplation. It almost seems odd that he needed to re-enter society to see this, knowing that as a man of letters and a student of religion that he would be well versed in the concept of our equality before God. On the other hand, perhaps his revelation came precisely out of his time in isolation. He continues:

It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream.

He confesses that in taking vows as a monk he and his friends had begun to imagine themselves as “a different species of being, [or] pseudo-angels.” (Merton, p. 90) When he rediscovered his common humanity with the shoppers at the corner of Fourth and Walnut his entire outlook changed. He quickly became “a monk for peace,” calling for sanity in one of the most intense times of the Cold War.


The author of Hebrews wrote:

Yes, by God's grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone in all the world. 10And it was only right that God--who made everything and for whom everything was made--should bring his many children into glory. Through the suffering of Jesus, God made him a perfect leader, one fit to bring them into their salvation. (Ch. 2)

By God’s grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone in all the world: the pious and sinful, the powerful and weak, the Jews and non-Jews, men and women and so on. Even as he began to surrender to death he forgave everyone: the friends who denied and fled, the soldiers, the religious elite, and the common people who cried out for his death. They did not know what they were doing and forgave them. Through his death, and through the end of death, a broken world was opened to a new reality, a reality based on forgiveness and God’s continuing desire to walk among us through the Risen Christ.

Child-like, we empty ourselves of any notion that we are wise enough or powerful enough to earn God’s favour. We cannot. Our place in the Kingdom is promised based purely on our humanity and God’s desire to be with us. “We are already one,” Thomas Merton said, “but we imagine we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are.” (p. 140) When we internalize this reality we begin to understand ourselves and our place in the world quite differently. We cannot separate ourselves and enjoy some private relationship with the Maker of all when God is clearly the Maker of all. Instead we stand with others, mindful of God’s grace, and remember “we are already one” in Christ Jesus. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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