Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Jesus and the Little Useless Burdens, by the Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

13. People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10)

In my sermon last Sunday I made the point that the little scene from Mark in which Jesus blesses children is far more remarkable than our Western, modern minds comprehend. In the ancient world until a child matured to the point where they could begin to help with the ongoing work of the family they were considered an economic burden. Children were classed below slaves because they were use-less. For Jesus to literally embrace little children would have been, at the very least, surprising to his followers and neighbors.

Jesus is obviously making a point, and it is this: the Kingdom of God into which Jesus invites us is radically different from the ways of the world, so much so that the foundations of everything we know and believe are turned on their heads.

The word that Mark uses that we translate child is paidia [παιδια, “pie-dee-uh”], a fairly common term in the Greek of the day. Interestingly, it can be used as a synonym for terms like baby, little ones, tykes, inconsequential ones, servants and so on. That is, the term paidia could be used very much like we use the word child. So, what Jesus’ hearers would have inferred is that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a [little child, servant, inconsequential thing, baby, innocent one] will never enter it.” What they would have heard was “…like the least valuable and most useless thing you can imagine…”.

They who were gathering around Jesus and were trying to make themselves useful (that is, noticed) by him had just been told that they would not enter the kingdom, but their little useless burdens—children—would. If they didn’t see their world turning upside down then at least they felt something falling onto their heads.

This idea of little useless ones occurs throughout Jesus’ teaching. It is hinted at in Jesus’ encounter with Rabbi Nicodemus in John. Matthew reports the saying of Jesus that “inasmuch as you have done it to these, one of the little ones, you have done it do me.” “Little ones” there is the Greek word micron (pronounced mee-kron). It means very much what it does in English: the tiniest entity imaginable, something microscopic, a thing so insignificant you would never notice it. A child, for instance.

(Having just done the Blessing of the Animals I am reminded of the prayer, “…that we may not succumb to coldness of heart when we see the stray animals on our streets, that we may not turn away but bring them to a place of safety,…” Perhaps anything inconsequential that passes beneath our attention is a paidia or a micron.)

This is not one of those ideas that one can simply embrace intellectually. It is more an awareness, a comprehension of something that makes us stop and consider what is being said. The foundations of what we think we know and believe are turned on their heads. Ouch.

Peter +

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