Break out your cameras and camcorders we’ve got a blessing event! Have you ever been around little ones? The itty-bitty babies are so cuddly and you just can’t miss the opportunity to touch, to hold, to cuddle, to squeeze with joy. What little we know about Jesus’ personal life is that he wasn’t married and he didn’t have children of his own. Jesus was surely an eligible bachelor, and no doubt the call to celibacy would have been a wilderness discussion. So why would this eligible bachelor be so interested in babies, children, and young people?
Today we become eyewitnesses to the experiences of Jesus with babies, children, and young people handed down by Luke, the physician. I’d like to point out a few important snapshots in Luke’s Gospel to demonstrate Jesus’ interaction with these kids. There’s an interesting thread that runs through Luke’s Gospel regarding babies, children and young people, and it all begins in the very first chapter.
It all begins with a barren woman and a broken hearted father who conceive at a ripe old age – too old to have children. God is interested in these soon to be parents not simply for the fulfillment of the promise of the Messiah, but because he was interested in people. We can follow this tapestry thread through Luke 1.17 by acknowledging that John the Baptist was called specifically “to turn the hearts of the parents to their children…” The whole of the Old Testament points to the continuation of faith in the next generation (Psalm 78, Deut 6). God cares about families, and especially the children.
Luke continues this thread by painting a picture of two babies alive and actively responding to a family greeting in the joy of the Holy Spirit. “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:41, 44). The word “baby” here means a very small child, even one still unborn — a baby, infant, fetus, implying a time when a child is still nursing. Luke embraces the wholeness of a child’s identity even from the womb.
Luke goes on to point out that Jesus was brought to the house of the Lord at 8-days to be circumcised. Luke wants to set the standard of care not only for Jesus but for the children who would follow. There were two people in the Temple waiting for the coming Messiah. When the Messiah came, it was not a man – but a small child. Simeon and Anna could not help but to hold him, praise God, and bless the family with words of encouragement (Luke 2.28, 34. 38).
Luke observed that Jesus grew and became strong, filled with wisdom and grace (Luke 2.40). Jesus grew in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man (Luke 2.52). These are not casually mentioned words. They are intentional and important in acknowledging that through his eyewitness accounts that Jesus’ childhood and young adult life were important. It seems that Jesus was a good son. Jesus’ whole life is important to Luke.
What’s interesting is that as Luke tells the story of Jesus, we discover how important babies, children, and young people are to Jesus. There’s a story about a widow and her young son whom Jesus raises from the dead (Luke 7.14-15). Jesus wasn’t afraid of becoming unclean by touching the deceased as the religious leaders would have been. Jesus was also intentional about giving the son back to his mother. The son was not raised for his own sake but because of his broken hearted mother.
Luke records yet another story about a young person – a young girl of about 12 years who has died (Luke 8.40-42, 49-56). Jesus goes to the bedside, takes her hand, and speaks to her. But he doesn’t stop at raising her from the dead, he is concerned about her whole health and instructs them to give her something to eat. Both parents are there with the child and find themselves in the presence of a miracle.
But Luke’s Gospel doesn’t stop at these two miraculous events. Luke goes on to instruct us that as Jesus goes to Jerusalem for his final Passover many disciples gather around him shouting, “Hosanna!” Matthew’s Gospel explains that included in this growing crowd of disciples were young children (Matt. 21.15-16). Matthew reports in his Gospel that children celebrated at the coming of Jesus into Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. “But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant” (Matt. 21.15). Children were in the temple courts. Even from childhood Jewish kids were required to know the Holy texts, “…and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). The children would have been around Jesus as he taught in the Temple to be sure.
As we turn to our passage today at the heart of the Gospel story we can now observe all the nuances of the stories that Luke has intentionally gathered about babies, children, and young people. To be sure Jesus did not only come for those who were considered adults and decision-makers. Jesus reached out to the babies, children, and young people too. Let’s look closer at our text from Luke 18.15-17.
“People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’” Luke 18.15-17
Indeed, people were coming to Jesus for a blessing. People may have included mothers, aunts, grandmothers or even daddies who wanted a blessing for the next generation. To be sure if these people were only the women Luke would have told us so. Luke is very intentional in how he lifts up women. But here there is a bit of a reversal – the daddies are coming too. These sorts of blessings were part of the Hebrew heritage. Psalm 78 says it this way, “…so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children” (Psalm 78.6). Jesus was, indeed, blessing the little ones. In fact scripture points out that the Lord “…punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation” (Num. 14.18, Deut 5.9). No doubt the parents understood this negative impact on their children. Imagine with me how a couple would have gone out to John the Baptist and found repentance in the waters of baptism. Yet, they could only hope that the negative consequence for their life would not impact their children. True love brings these parents to not only their own personal repentance but the healing for their children.
Unfortunately, “when the disciples saw this, they rebuked them” (Luke 18.15). Instead of blessing, the disciples spoke a negative word over the children. The disciples had not come to the realization that babies, children, and young people were disciples too. The story is about Jesus touching itty-bitty babies. “People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them” (Luke 18:15). These little ones were babies wrapped in swaddling clothing with mommies and daddies that were still challenged with sleepless nights of nursing problems, colic, and messy diapers.
But after Jesus was rebuked, he does something unique. He called the little kids to him… not the itty-bitty babies he was laying his hands on but the little children who could walk on their own accord and come into his arms or jump up into his lap. He gathered the little children within his arms. And, then he offers a teaching on the Kingdom of God. I can just imagine how powerful that scene was with all those little children gathered around this eligible bachelor.
Not only does Luke teach us about Jesus’ interactions with babies, children, and young people but guides us in our understanding that babies, children, and young people are true disciples. The UMC understands its responsibility to babies, children, and young people begins in the context of family. The 2013-16 BOD Social Principles ¶161 teach us that children have rights, and that they are no longer consider property. However, adults have a special obligation to these little ones including food, shelter, clothing, health care, education, and emotional health. All children should be protected from economic, physical, and emotional exploitation and abuse. We believe the family is the basic human community by which people are nurtured and sustained in mutual love, responsibility, respect, and fidelity. We affirm loving parents. We understand that the family unit goes beyond the nucleus of parents and children. We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant with expressions of love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman. We reject “social norms” that assume roles and standards for women and men within the marriage and family. We support laws in civil society that define marriage as one man and one woman. God’s plan is for lifelong faithful marriage. We encourage divorced and remarried families to stay connected to the church where God’s grace is shared by all.
Hear these words of our baptismal song entitled, God Claims You: “Child of promise, God claims you. God helps you, protects you, and loves you too. We this day do all agree a child of God you’ll always be. We your family love you so and we vow to help your faith to grow. We are here to say this day that we will help you on your way. And if you should tire or cry then we will sing this lullaby.”
As United Methodist we baptize infants who later confirm their faith and join the church. We believe that Jesus welcomes all people no matter their age into the fellowship of all true disciples of Jesus Christ. Hear these words as our reaffirmation of faith, “The Lord defend you with his heavenly grace and by his Spirit confirm you in the faith and fellowship of all true disciples of Jesus Christ.” May we never be a stumbling block for the kids in our communities to meet Jesus!
As I’ve studied this interesting thread about kids that runs through the Gospel of Luke, there’s a song that keeps running through my mind. You might know it, but I’ve edited the words to fit what I’ve learned in Luke’s Gospel. Sing his prayer with me, “He’s got the whole world in his hands. He’s got the itty-bitty babies in his hands. He’s got all the little children in his hands. He’s got every young person in his hands.”