Let the children come to us
A Reflection for Saturday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Children were brought to Jesus
that he might lay his hands on them and pray.
The disciples rebuked them, but Jesus said,
"Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them;
for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
After he placed his hands on them, he went away. (Mt 19:13-15)
From this verse’s expression in King James, we’ve gleaned the more evocative: “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me…” Such is the kingdom of heaven indeed.
One can only wonder how radical that gesture was in first-century Judea. Sociologists tell us that “childhood” as we understand it today is a late 20th-century invention. Parents no doubt loved their children then just as we do today—how can we help it?—but children were not valued the same, and their social interactions with non-peers were not as tolerated.
Their lives of play and exploration were short, quickly traded for the common drudgeries and burdens of contributing to the family weal, just like any other adult.
The apostles were no doubt scandalized by a crowd of laughing, rushing children—ignoring their scowly disapproval, drawn to Jesus—reaching to embrace him, sit with him and touch him. As he did time and again during his ministry on earth, Jesus overturned expectations and defied social niceties and traditional behavior.
“Let the children come to me.” No doubt he was as charmed, amused and drawn to these children as they were to him, seeing in each of them the spark of the divine and delight in creation, blessing these children and treating them like a blessing.
One in six children in the United States grow up in absolute material poverty, running the gamut of social and environmental threats to their full flourishing that could be easily addressed if we had the political will.
What a lesson that remains for us today, a generation that prides itself on our esteem and care for children. Yet one in six children—16 percent—in the United States, one of the wealthiest nations on earth, grow up in absolute material poverty, running the gamut of social and environmental threats to their full flourishing that could be easily addressed if we had the political will to do so.
And what of the real-life children we encounter each day as we manage the social and school lives of our own children, the ones who are more than grim abstractions in a social development survey? How fully do we allow them to come to us?
Do we isolate and ignore them, in slights from the superficial to the profound? Or do we truly welcome all the children, and then encourage our children to do the same?
Children who are differently abled, neurodivergent children, children from different backgrounds, religions, races—children classified or boxed off in any of the hundreds of ways we divide and conquer childhood. Does their difference unnerve us a little, too? Or do our hearts ache for these children, isolated, discarded because they were perceived as somehow mortally “different” by their peers?
We say things like “children can be so cruel” when we witness a child forlorn of friendship or bereft of curious, kindly interactions. But is that just how we relieve ourselves of the obligation to model a better way of including everyone, of accepting and even celebrating differences? How often do we decide that maybe kids can be cruel but no, today, they will not be so cruel, we will not let them? Today we will suffer all the children, and we will do that with kindness, mercy and love.