Summary: This event teaches us something about God, something about people and something about entry into God’s kingdom. The sermon challenges Christians in our attitudes towards children in particular.
Today’s Bible reading tells us something about God. It tells us something about people; and it tells us something about entry into God’s Kingdom. It tells us that some people will enter God’s kingdom and it tells us that some people will not enter God’s kingdom.
In Luke’s gospel today’s Bible event comes hot on the tail of a parable which Jesus told “to some [people] who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else” (18:9). Jesus told a story of two men going to the Temple to pray. One was very religious, very careful about how he prayed and very careful to give away a tenth of his income. He was a ‘pillar’ of the religious community and he was very thankful to God. Words of thanks to God came easily and last week we were reminded that it is right and good to give thanks to God (Luke 17:11-19)! However, his thanks were misplaced. He prayed, “I thank you that I am not like …this tax collector”!
As he prayed he glanced at another man at the back of the Temple who was also praying. The other man was a tax collector – a collaborator – not to be trusted, an informer, a swindler, a sinner, a thief. What’s he doing here? How dare he come here?
The tax collector prayed an honest, humble prayer: “God have mercy on me, a sinner” (18:13) and Jesus said it was this man, not the religious man who went home justified before God (18:14). Luke now builds on this parable by referring to an incident which helps to illustrate what we adults need to be like if we are to be justified before God; what we need to be like if we are to enter the kingdom of God (18:17).
Luke tells us about an occasion when people were “bringing [little children] to Jesus to have him touch them” (18:15) and some translations of the Bible say it was so that Jesus could “place his hands on them” (GNB); so that “Jesus could bless” them (CEV).
We can’t be exactly sure about why the disciples react as they do. Perhaps Jesus is looking tired and they want him to be able to rest; or perhaps they feel that the kingdom of God is so imminent (17: 20-25) that Jesus should be getting on with real work – healing, teaching, preaching, challenging – rather than ‘wasting’ time with ‘insignificant’ children; or perhaps there is a seriousness about Jesus which leaves the disciples wanting to protect him. After all, he’s just told them the Son of Man “must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation” (17: 25).
The disciples rebuked parents for bringing children to be blessed by Jesus (18:15). I can almost hear them saying, “No. Leave the master alone. He needs rest. He needs to be doing the real work of the kingdom. He hasn’t got time to be doing insignificant things like blessing babies and infants. Please go away!” Some Churches operate a similar policy by telling parents that literally their children must go to the crèche.
Some (infant baptising) Churches operate a similar policy by having very complicated and long-winded policies towards parents who want their children to be baptised. By erecting too many hoops to jump through or by giving the impression that ‘the Church’ believes most parents only want a party, I know of too many parents and young children in the places I have lived who have disappeared never to be seen again because they have not been made truly welcome.