john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Jesus and the scandal of the children

    Lydford (Baptism),

    Matthew 19.13-15

    Jesus caused a scandal wherever he went. And if the events described by Matthew happened today, he'd be causing a scandal again. Matthew tells us that "He put his arms around the children, laid his hands upon them..."

    But he hadn't been CRB checked. He was breaking all the Child Protection taboos. In our society, adults are actively discouraged from touching children. We are told that we can't be trusted to be caring, to be intimate, with children; we are scared off showing our care for lost or distressed youngsters for fear that our holding their hand or our kindly hugs might be misunderstood: and so our young ones grow up untouched by us, distanced from us physically and emotionally.

    "He put his arms around the children, laid his hands upon them, and blessed them." - what right does he have to impose his religious beliefs on these innocents? That would be the cry today. How dare he presume to bless them: they should be left alone to find their own blessing in their own way and their own time.

    So Jesus' behaviour is scandalous behaviour, now, just as it was at the time it actually happened. Though the cause of the scandal was different then. As Matthew describes it, people were bringing their children to Jesus to be blessed by him - because they must have seen in him something special, something wholesome, something holy, something which they wanted their children to share in.

    It was the disciples who were scandalised by this: they regarded this as a distraction from Jesus's main purpose, which was to preach the good news of the Kingdom of God to the adults around. His was a grown-up message; the gospel was a serious business to be mulled over by mature people, not something to be interrupted by screaming, wriggling kids.

    But Jesus saw things very differently. Jesus wanted his scandalised disciples to understand that the grown-up gospel was something which could be understood by children; embraced by children, and more than that, he said, "the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these."

    This is what Jesus wanted his disciples to hear on that day in Judea; and today, after a week where events in our cities have thrown into focus our complex and troubled relationships with our young people [1], this is what Jesus wants us to hear:
    That the Kingdom of God belongs to the little ones, the ones we neglect, the ones we sideline, the ones we demonise, the ones we'd rather ignore.

    That the Kingdom of God belongs to the ones our society decides we shouldn't touch; the ones we are frightened to engage with, the ones we are uncomfortable with, the ones who disturb our self-indulgent adult ways.
    This is what Jesus wants us to hear today:
    That the Kingdom of God belongs to those who want to be blessed by him, those who aren't afraid to be touched by him, those who want to be embraced by him.
    The great thing about a baptism is that it enables us to get things back into a gospel perspective, to have our faith restored.

    So we are grateful today for John and Alex bringing Lily to Jesus to be blessed by him - perhaps because they have seen in Jesus something special, something wholesome, something holy, which they want their child to share in.

    May Lily know the blessing of Jesus in her baptism today, John and Alex, the godparents and and all the family too.

    And may the act of devotion we are sharing in bring some healing, bring some hope, save us all from being scandalised and restore our faith in the one who embraced the children, who embraces all who come to him.

    [1] After a week of civil unrest, BBC News: England Riots.