This week’s Gospel lesson In Mark 10 includes these treasured words: “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs…whoever does not receive the reign of God as a little child will never enter it” (10:14-15). We usually interpret the text to mean that just as Jesus valued children, so should we. Children had little status in first century Palestine. Life expectancy was a cruel challenge; children had limited stamina in arduous work necessary to provide for a family; and the pater familias structure demanded radical dependency upon the father. One could only hope that he was beneficent.
This text actually has a larger theme; it is all about inclusion of those considered non-persons, children as key example. Pheme Perkins, who wrote the commentary on Mark for the New Interpreter’s Bible, observed that one of the reasons Jesus welcomed the children was that their mothers were there and thus were allowed to “overhear” his teachings as they provided care for the children. In the previous chapter, when an “outsider” performed mighty works in the name of Jesus, he was considered worthy of being “with Jesus”—the objections of the disciples notwithstanding. Jesus is crafting a spacious understanding of the basileia; there is room for those that religious tradition would exclude.
How does one enter this realm? As a child. Children are full of wonder and trust, and they receive with gratitude the welcome of others, that is, unless they have been betrayed, neglected, or abused. The disposition of children is of dependence; a “fundamental trust” (Hans Küng’s term) characterizes their approach to life. The Spirit of God beckons all of humanity to live with this the disposition toward God, hard as it is for the jaded among us. True personhood depends upon being granted an identity which we did not earn, which comes as gift. This is a realm I would like to inhabit more faithfully. Indeed, there is plenty of room.
Molly T. Marshall