Of Children, Adults and the Kingdom of God

[Homily. Saturday. Feb 26, 2022. Re: Mark 10:13-16]

In the gospel according to St Mark, Jesus dealt with many adults.  To them, he labored to disclose the core message of his gospel: “This is the time of fulfillment.  The Kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe in the gospel!” (Mk 1:14-15). The gospel was of salvation for all worked out by a good and compassionate Father in the passion, death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus.  The gospel was ultimately a message of love, and so an imperative to love, to turn away from covetousness, lying, hypocrisy, lust, murder, hatred, indifference to persons, indifference to God, disobedience to him, and idolatry, and recognize the Father reigning in their lives through love.  It called forth what love and freedom in love entails:  total love for the Father, love for one’s neighbor in the grateful experience of oneself being totally loved.  In its profundity – and simplicity – one might consider it a message “for adults only.”  Unfortunately, many were and are too adult to accept the Father’s message to his children.

Too adult to accept the Father’s message to his children.

That is at the heart of the gospel for today.  People were bringing children to Jesus that he might bless them.  But the disciples sniped at them: Stay away from the Master!  They were adults deciding the Lord should not be bothered by mere children.  But Jesus responded with indignation:  “Let the children come to me;  do not prevent them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these!” (Mk 10:14).  He was not only insisting that the children be allowed to approach him.  He was declaring something important about the Kingdom of God.  It belongs to those who are like these children, immediately and fully open to the recognition and love of Jesus.  “Amen I say to you, whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it….” (Mk 19:15).

Consider images of adults in Mark that come before our gospel for today.  Consider the adult scribes who witnessed how Jesus had responded to the paralytic lowered into his presence from the roof.  They were familiar with the Law; they copied it onto the scrolls that were used for liturgy.  But in their adulthood, they were trapped in but the letter of the Law, and so they could not discern the Father forgiving and healing in Jesus’ words, “Child, your sins are forgiven” and “Rise, pick up your mat, and go home” (Mk 2:5.9.).  “He is blaspheming!” they charged. “Who but God alone can forgive sins?” (Mk 2:7b).  God alone was forgiving and healing.  But in their adulthood they could not see this.   Consider the Pharisees, the well-respected adults “set apart” in their knowledge of the law and spirituality of post-exilic Judaism, who accused the disciples of Jesus of violating the sabbath as they picked heads of grain on a sabbath.  Jesus reminded them of David and his companions eating of the bread of offerings because they were hungry; he taught how the Father of the Law, even of the Sabbath, is compassionate.  “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” (Mk 2:27), Jesus declared.  It was a message which drove the Pharisees to demand his death.  Consider the adults in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth.  “When the sabbath came he began to teach them in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished” (Mk 6:2a).  This astonishment however was not awe at the Father speaking through Jesus.  It was rather cynical rejection of Jesus, whom they all knew from their childhood, now taking this adult role in the synagogue.  “Where did this man get all this?  What kind of wisdom has been given him?  What mighty deeds are wrought in his hands?” (Mk 6:2b).  In their adulthood, hearing they could not hear, and seeing they could not see. “Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?  And are not his sisters here with us? And they took offence in him”  (Mk 6:3).  Indeed, in Nazareth, when Jesus’ adult relatives heard of him nearly overwhelmed by the crowd pressing on him for light and healing, “they set out to seize him for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” (Mk 3:20-21).  Consider the adult Peter responding to Jesus after he had disclosed that he would have to suffer and die at the hands of the chief priests and scribes.  Peter was only wishing to spare him the passion and death he predicted.  But Jesus’ response was seismic, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mk 8:33). Addressing the crowds he said, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Mk 3:34).

Let the children come to me.

It was in this context that Jesus in our gospel for today says, “Let the children come to me.  …  Whoever does not accept the kingdom of God as a child will not enter it” (Mk 10:14-15).  In contemplating this scene of the gospel, it is up to us to appreciate the qualities of him or her who accepts the Kingdom of God as a child – with trust, with openness, with gratitude, with no entitlement, with no achievements, with no power.  A shy child simply approaching a smiling Jesus.  A repentant child embraced by a forgiving Father (cf. Lk 15).

Today, I think you cannot be too much of an adult when you pray with the psalmist, “Tremble before God, all the earth.  Proclaim to the nations, ‘God is king.’ The world he made firm in its place. He will judge the peoples in fairness” (Ps. 96: 9b-10).  Consider the unconscionable economic divides in our world preserved by an economic order which keeps the world divided.  Consider the planet, our common home, being destroyed by the carbon emissions of the richest and most industrialized countries of the globe.  Consider the United Nations founded to keep world peace that cannot keep the peace because of the conflicted national interests of those countries that make up its security council.  Consider the democracies that for private interests cannot find the common good, and autocracies that for common goals can respect neither the rights of individuals nor the sovereignty of whole nations.  How does God judge the peoples in fairness?

It is similar with the prophetic statement of Isaiah: “He shall judge between the nations and impose terms on many peoples.  They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again” (Is 2: 4).   But for Russia in its relationship with Ukraine it has not desisted from training for war; it has engaged in “war exercises” designed to terrorize and destabilize a neighboring country by their sheer size and proximity.  It has not beaten its swords into ploughshares; it has beaten them into tanks, missiles, and attack helicopters.  Where one nation was not to raise the sword against another, Russia has fired its missiles against Ukraine and has invaded it.  After having insolently declared it a non-nation, a mere creation of Russia, and therefore ultimately belonging to Russia, it has unilaterally recognized breakaway territories, the Donetsh and the Luhanks, as independent countries, and has used their liberation as a pretext for invasion.  But his clear intention is to control the entire country.  Putin’s arrogant aggression is “for adults only.”

Among these adults, the proclamation, “God is king” is of no relevance.  Putin is.  Or military might is.  Precision artillery, jet planes and nuclear arms are “king”. 

Adult refusal of faith in Jesus and rejection of the Kingdom of God

But does this not bring us to the precise message of today’s gospel?  It is not just a glorification of sweet little children and gentle Jesus, but a rejection of that adult reasoning, rationalization, deception, power, arrogance, manipulation, coercion, violence, murder, war, and ultimate refusal of faith in Jesus that rejects the Kingdom of God for the Kingdom of Adults.  The adult says, “if you interfere in my evil, you will be punished with consequences you have never faced in your history.”  The adult response: “You do not scare me.  With my arsenal of unprecedented super sanctions, I will deter your evil!  Beyond these, my nukes are ready.”  But the gospel says:  “Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”

Jesus also says: “Behold, I am sending you out like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be cunning as serpents and innocent as doves” (Mt. 10:16). Paul says:  “In everything you do, act without grumbling or arguing; prove yourselves innocent and straightforward, children of God beyond reproach in the midst of a twisted and depraved generation – among whom you shine like the stars in the sky” (Phil. 2:14-15).

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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