Text: Mark 10: 13-16
13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
There are a number of observations concerning this text that I want to make that I think are very critical to our understanding of Jesus’ attitude toward others and I also want to zero in on this word indignant. The word exploration may shed some more light on what we began talking about last week when we dealt with the subject of anger a little bit.
So we will begin first with a few observations about this text. Many of you I’m sure have seen artists pictures of this scene with Jesus surrounded by cute children; if the painting or drawing is particularly outdated, many of the children will be white with blonde hair and blue eyes! Not an exact depiction of reality and to a great extent, I think the scene has been glamorized a great deal. Have you ever stopped to ask the question as to why the disciples would want to keep the children away from Jesus? Doesn’t everybody love cute, adorable kids? What’s the big deal, anyway?
As you begin to try to picture this scene from the disciples’ point of view, there might be a couple of things you should try to think about. The first thing that pops into my head is that Pampers didn’t exist in the first century-I’m not sure what they used for diapers, but I’m pretty certain the diapers were not as efficient or as effective as a modern day Pamper. In other words, sometimes they leak-if you have had kids, you know what I’m talking about.
There was one morning I remember well. Our first born, Matthew, was just 18 months old. I was in college and had an 8 o’clock class and Heidi was working at a day care center that also opened early. It was always a mad dash to get everybody where they needed to be on time. We just had one car, so I would ride my bike to class and the student housing we were staying in was close enough that I could do that. On this particular morning we were just about to leave when we had to deal with a particularly messy diaper-I will leave the details to your imagination, but the extra time it took to change the diaper put us behind schedule. We were a blur of motion, working together, we got the diaper changed, Matthew loaded into the car seat, Heidi on her way and I’m on my bike riding full speed to not be late for class. I arrived at class with a few minutes to spare. I sat at a desk and for the first time in about 30 minutes or so, I was actually still enough to catch my breath. When I did actually come to a complete stop and took a few deep breaths-well…sniff, sniff-there was something on my shirt! I missed class that day.
The text says people were bringing children, it doesn’t say infants, but toddlers could still be in diapers, but the truth is we don’t have any idea what age the children might have been. It could be there was a wide range of ages, and some could still have been in the diaper stage. It could be that some of the kids were not all that pleasant to be around-I don’t know how often you got changed as a toddler in the first century, but I’m thinking not all that often. I know for sure there were not any baby fresh wipes or sweet smelling lotions or powder either.
I was always amazed when our kids were young at how quickly they could get dirty. After a bath the kids would stay clean for maybe 10 minutes, 20 minutes max. Kids are dirt magnets. When they eat something, half of the food ends up on the outside of them someplace and then the food gets sticky. Then the kids find a tree to climb or a dirt mound to roll in and you know what happens then. I’m sure there were incidents and minor accidents for the kids as they played that would cause a few tears and so the tears streak the cheeks in the dust that is already there, and more dust sticks to the tears as they flow. Then the kid wipes the tears and there is a big smudge across the cheek-we have all seen this. Then there was the heat; in that part of the country it is hot most of the time and kids sweat just like adults. So more dust sticks to the sweat and when they wipe the sweat out of their eyes, more smudges and more dirty faces! Just imagine how compounded all of these things would have been in the first century-I’m thinking the kids were not pleasant to be around at all.
Then there is the issue of the runny nose. It sure seems like kids and runny noses just go together; you know, apple pie and ice cream, peas and carrots, sunshine and palm trees, ocean water and sandy beaches, kids and runny noses-it’s just the way it is. It is also a safe bet that in the first century there wasn’t always a box of Kleenex handy or even a handkerchief-but I do know they had sleeves! Chances are that is where most of the dribble ended up, somewhere on the sleeve of the child and of course one more thing for the dust to stick to!
I’m thinking these kids would not have been the greatest example of cleanliness. They would have been highly undesirable, smudged-faced, dirty clothed, probably smelled bad and were a general nuisance; now we can begin to understand why the disciples would be stern with the parents. The disciples were just trying to keep the situation as pleasant as possible.
So with perhaps a new image of a first century child in our minds, we need to revisit the text where Jesus says to the disciples that it is to people just like these children that the kingdom of God belongs. Not the cute, smartly dressed, clean faced and sweet smelling children in the artists pictures, but the undesirable, smelly, dirty and sticky-fingered kids of the first century. What does this tell us about who we are to be ministering to? What does this tell us about who we are to be sharing the Good News? I think the children in this story represent for us the undesirable, the under-belly of society, the outcasts and the people who we would rather not associate with. The text goes on to say that Jesus took them up in his arms and blessed them.
To these belongs the kingdom of God. Wow. Can you see it?
The disciples were just trying to keep Jesus from catching anything awful from one of the runny-nosed kids, trying to keep his nice white robe from getting soiled with smashed dates or whatever the last meal was for these kids. They were just trying to keep the area free from a bunch of kids underfoot and perhaps trying to keep the air around fresh and breathable…and to this Jesus becomes indignant!
That is an interesting word, isn’t it? Indignant. The text doesn’t say angry or frustrated, the text doesn’t say he yelled at them or became violent; the text says he was indignant. I think that is so interesting. The Greek word that is translated into indignant is ag-an-ak-teh’-o. Some of the other meanings in Greek indicate that it is a form of grief, or almost sadness; it is compassion felt so strongly that it creates disappointment or melancholy. Even Webster’s definition I think is helpful-“anger aroused by injustice” is how Webster chose to define indignant. What Jesus felt goes beyond being annoyed or frustrated with his disciples, it goes beyond just being angry with them. To be indignant is to be moved emotionally to a place of intolerance.
This is what Jesus was feeling. He was moved to a place of intolerance and he became indignant. Don’t you dare assume these children are unworthy of my attention. Don’t you dare judge these to be less than others because of age or dress or cleanliness. Don’t you dare think God cares less for these who struggle, or are smudged-faced, or that smell bad. Don’t you dare.
The message can still be heard today. Don’t you dare limit the love of God to a single group of people. Don’t you dare think certain clothes or certain shoes or certain haircuts are the only ones acceptable for church-don’t you dare. Can we welcome those who we would rather not be around? Can we welcome those who make us uncomfortable? Can we welcome those who need the love and compassion of God so desperately? Don’t you dare think the love of God is limited to the sweet-smelling, nicely dressed, SUV-driving, gainfully-employed population. Don’t you dare.
Can you see the children? Can you see Jesus standing in the midst of the disciples explaining to them, it is people like these kids that belong to the kingdom of God. Do not hinder them, but let everyone come to me.
Perhaps we need a little more indignation. Go in peace. Amen.