‘At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants…’
Who are “the wise and intelligent” to whom Jesus is referring? Any one of three groups who held power. One, the scribes and Pharisees who were the educated, Jewish elite. Second, the Greeks, whose intellectual prowess was recognized even by Rome. And thirdly, Rome, which was the occupying and controlling force in Palestine. To a Roman ear, when Jesus, the peasant, prays aloud to the God whom he calls “Father,” – Papa – I thank you, Papa, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things – his revelation – from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants – Jesus is an idiot to the Greeks[i], blasphemous to the Jews, and treasonous to the Romans because Caesar, only Caesar Augustus, was called “God from God.”[ii]
Jesus presses the point. In Matthew’s Gospel, just beyond where we read today, Jesus is asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”[iii] Matthew also remembers that little children were being brought to Jesus. He lays his hands on them, blesses them, and says, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’[iv]
Children in Jesus’ day did not have worth in their own right as children. At best, their worth was in their potential as an adult. Children who were not promising because of their birthright, not promising because of their brightness, or their appearance, or their gender (females being inherently inferior) – were like chattel. Jesus’ point in raising up a child in his arms is not about our educating children, nor about our encouraging the best out of children, as important as that all is. Jesus’ point is far more radical and subversive. Jesus publicly embraces a child with care – which in itself was a “lowly” action reserved for women. Is it a boy or girl? The gender would have made a difference given the cultural norms, but we’re not told because it does not matter to Jesus. Jesus commands his disciples to welcome children, all children, which, because children are the lowest rung, means we as his followers are to welcome everyone.[v] Everyone has a place within God’s embrace, which is a drastic reversal of the norms.[vi] Jesus radically confronts the existing structures of power and privilege and piety: Jesus (not Caesar Augustus) represents the God of Gods, and children represent Jesus.
There’s a lifetime of lessons we can draw from this Gospel teaching: that everyone, everyone, is welcomed by Jesus’ embrace; that children must have a claim on our attention: their protection, their education, their provision, their future. We just need to include ourselves among them, we who are called “children of God,” no matter our age. As important it is to use our God-given minds, to study hard, and to think deeply, and to glean the wisdom of age, God’s revelation is always going to happen at a lower level, in ways of knowing that may defy explanation and examination and yet what we know, absolutely, to be true in our heart. If you get stuck in your head and cannot figure it out, take Jesus at his word. Surrender to Jesus’ revelation which will come to us only in our
powerlessness. Powerless as an infant.
[i] The English word, “idiot,’ from Greek idiotes, “layman, person lacking professional skill.”
[ii] John Dominic Crossan in God and Empire, writes that, before the birth of Jesus, Caesar Augustus was titled “Divine,” “Son of God,” “God from God,” “Lord,” “Redeemer,” “Liberator,” and “Savior of the World.” (p. 28.)
[iii] Matthew 18:1-4.
[iv] Matthew 19:13-14. See also Mark 9:30-37.
[v] Eugene Boring in Mark: A Commentary. (p. 281)
[vi]Hans-Ruedi Weber in Jesus and the Children. (pp. 34, 37)
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