In his ministry, Jesus showed striking interest in and love for children. To the surprise of his disciples, he often including them in his teaching: “Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven’” (Matt 19:13–14). When the disciples came to Jesus asking him which one of them was going to be the greatest in Christ’s kingdom, Jesus called a child to himself (Matt. 18:2) and said, “whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:4). Jesus went on, telling his followers that part of their duty is to receive little children: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me” (Matt. 18:5).
In Mark 10, Jesus upholds childlike faith as admirable: “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:15; cf. Luke 18:17).
Jesus wants his followers to honor, protect, and care for those among them who are small and vulnerable, especially children. Part of Jesus’ ministry on earth involved healing children. In Mark 5:39, Jesus came into the house of a ruler of the synagogue, whose daughter had just died. Jesus said that she was not dead, but only sleeping. After they laughed at him, Jesus said to the child, “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (Mark 5:41; cf. Luke 8:54). Mark recounts what happened next: “And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement” (Mark 5:42). Similarly, in Mark 9, Jesus encounters a young boy who had been having demonic attacks. Jesus commanded the unclean spirit to come out of him (Mark 9:25) and the boy fell down as if he were dead. Jesus took him by the hand and he was healed (Mark 9:27). Jesus, who calls himself “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25), brings life and healing to children.
The tenderness and care Jesus showed for children is an expression of God’s heart toward the small, the weak, and the vulnerable. Judith Gundry-Volf, also points out the ways Jesus’ teaching and practice highlighted the importance and significance of children:
- “He blesses the children brought to him and teaches that the reign of God belongs to them.”
- “He makes children models of entering the reign of God.”
- “He makes children models of greatness in the reign of God.”
- “He calls his disciples to welcome little children as he does and turns the service of children into a sign of greatness in the reign of God.”
- “He gives the service of children ultimate significance as a way of receiving himself and by implication the One who sent him.”
- “He is acclaimed by children as the ‘Son of David.’”
Jesus’ love, honor, and care for children leads us to imitate his care for children and take action to protect them from those who try to harm them.
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