What kind of man is this, who speaks with authority yet is so approachable that the young mothers and children come near to be touched and blessed by him? This is no stern and critical Rabbi, judging and joyless! In this Gospel, we can easily share the view of those who watched him and listened to him speak the Good News: Jesus must surely attract with his joy and sincerity, tenderness and mighty calm, kindness and self-giving love.
These children and their mothers are confident Jesus will receive them, even as the disciples are rebuking them and shooing them away, no doubt trying to protect the Master from those who seem to them no more than a nuisance. In contrast, Jesus does not rebuke those who swarm him to be touched, but becomes indignant and rebukes the disciples for trying to prevent them, because his heart is moved by their innocent eagerness to draw near. Jesus wants to embrace them and bless them!
Jesus then opens the activity of this moment to teach a profound lesson: “the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” This must have surprised the disciples. The religious leaders they knew were nothing like children! They were rather decidedly not childlike – Jesus himself said they were full of greed and self-indulgence (Mt 23:25-6); they were like “whitewashed tombs…full of dead men’s bones” (Mt 23:27-8); cut from the same cloth as those who murdered the prophets of old (Mt 23:29). This is far from childlike.
What could Jesus have meant by telling the disciples that “whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it”? What does it mean to be childlike in regard to God? We must distinguish between childlikeness and childishness: the childish refuse to grow up; the childlike mature and yet retain – or return to – the attitude of a child before a loving Father: trust, wonder, joy, love.
Childlikeness is the trust that we reach beyond the limit of our self-reliance and self-assertion; it is the ability to wonder that is found beyond our demand for proof and explanation; it is the joy that is experienced when we let go of the questions and fears that hold us captive within the confines of our own skulls; it is the love we give freely beyond conditions and reasonings.
The children are drawn to him. The young mothers trust him with the children they love. And Jesus always touches and embraces and blesses those who are open to his presence in their lives.
“The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these”: those whose hearts are transformed to be like the Son’s own Heart by drawing near to him so that they are full of childlike joy and wonder and trust in the Father’s never-failing love and mercy. It is this loving trust and openness that frees us to accept the Kingdom of God.
Kathryn Mulderink is married to Robert, mother of seven, grandmother to two, and a lay Carmelite. She has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE, and also as a writer and voice talent for Holy Family Radio. Currently, she serves the Church as a writer and presenter, and by collaborating with the diocesan Office of Faith Formation, individual parishes, and Catholic ministries to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Learn more at www.kathryntherese.com or on Facebook @summapax .