At this point in Mark’s gospel, Jesus is reiterating the teaching to his disciples about what is going to happen and how the kingdom should look. He’s trying to teach them and make them understand what is going to come, and they are finding it difficult to understand.
Jesus uses the child as a metaphor for the lowly in society and Jesus also teaches that we should be childlike-not childish-in our accepting and trusting of God. Accepting the teaching from God as our parent, like a child who is being taught by their parents about the world, allows us to grow to become more fulfilled, happy and authentic human beings. In this manner we are able to develop our trust in God and live our lives according to his will.
Broadly speaking, in today’s society children are accepted for what they are, children. Sadly, this does not match with the experience of history, nor is it a universal truth today. Children in first century Palestine, whilst loved within their families, had no economic or social status. Until they became adults capable of working and contributing to the good of the household, children were on the lowest rung of the social ladder, if that!
Jesus, inviting a child into their midst, teaches the disciples that they must respond to the lowest of the low. He shows them and us that the kingdom turns the existing social structures inside out. He tells the disciples that to serve him, they must serve those at the bottom of the ladder and expect no reward, except from the one who sent them. Where those who were rich at that time were understood to have been blessed by God, Jesus is reminding and teaching the disciples (and us) that he came to save the sinner, the lowly, those in need, the poverty stricken. All are loved equally.
As family members we have a duty to the children around us, and so we have a duty to those in society who are represented by the child in the midst of the disciples. Jesus modelled a childlike love and he trusted his Father in heaven absolutely, he didn’t overcomplicate his view of the kingdom, he had clarity and he expressed this in his words: ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’
We should be mindful of these words as we seek to take the teaching from God our parent and go about our lives. Those who are on the bottom rung of the ladder are just as much a part of God’s kingdom as those at the top. All are welcome, all are valued, all are God’s children.
Rev’d Hannah Lane