What does Jesus mean when he says that we should be like children?

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “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.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)

You may have heard this story before, but what does it mean? Most often I’ve heard it reduced to a sentimental tale to reassure children of the Daddiness of God and warm the hearts of their mothers and fathers. God loves all children, yours included, even after the struggle to get them dressed for church. Or to challenge intellectuals that we can be justified by faith even without a well honed theology of justification by faith. You don’t need a college degree to be saved. I’ve even heard Buddhists relate the saying to their own teaching, comparing the closed, “expert’s mind” with the open, “beginner’s mind”.

All of which is true. But I don’t think that is what Jesus had foremost in mind when he said we should be like children, if we sought to be in, not out. In his culture the status of children was somewhat different to ours. And the action of placing his hands on their head carried far weightier, counter-cultural implications.

2 thoughts on “What does Jesus mean when he says that we should be like children?

  1. Brian Pember says:

    Children wee the property of their parents or benefactors, they had no rights nor power, they were dependent. Jewish children were not under the religious law until the age of about 12. They were part of the the covenant community by grace, having been born (or adopted) into it.
    As property their lives were, to some degree, in their hands of their parents (for good or ill).
    Children were expected to obey their parents (even prior to the family codes of the New testament letters).
    I am sure I have missed a lot.

    Like

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