It’s not hard for us to think about Jesus as loving children. We value our kids, we try to provide the best possible life for our kids, and we enroll them in every extra-curricular activity we can find that will help them achieve in the areas our families value most. In fact, some argue that we spend too much time and money on our kids, that we over-schedule and don’t allow them their childhood to grow and explore the world, discovering their skills, talents, likes, and dislikes.
Of course Jesus loves children. We love children. It may surprise you that children were not as highly thought of in the first century. Of course fathers and mothers valued their children, as any parent would, but in the social constructs of the time, children were pushed aside, and their opinions were discounted. Rabbis were not known to include children in their following, and in agricultural settings, children gained value when they were able to contribute to the good of the household. From a PBS.org story on the 1st century Roman Empire:
The paterfamilias had absolute rule over his household and children. If they angered him, he had the legal right to disown his children, sell them into slavery or even kill them.
Jesus loved the children. He valued them publicly, allowing them to join his following, using them as examples to follow, and warning against harming a child. There are 3 specific instances mentioned in 3 of the Gospels when Jesus specifically interacted with children:
- Matthew 18:1-5, Mark 9:33-37, Luke 9:46-48– Jesus set a child in the middle of the crowd and pointed to them as examples of humility and greatness. “Whoever humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
- Matthew 18:6-16, Mark 9:41-48, Luke 17:1-2– Jesus warns of causing a child (This could be a literal child or a new believer) to stumble, in other words, to harm their view of God. This could be through abuse, false teaching, or leading them into addiction and sin. “It would be better for this person if a millstone were hung around his neck and drowned in the depths of the sea.”
- Matthew 19:13-15, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17– Jesus rebukes those who would send the children away, brings them close, and blesses them. “The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.”
You might wonder, “My kids are teenagers, what does this have to do with me?” In the sense that teenagers are not children and we can talk to them on deeper levels and have higher expectations of them and give them greater amounts of freedom, you’re right.
But there’s a sense in which teenagers are not quite adults, and still need our guidance, care, and blessing. They have not developed the wisdom they need to function as well-adjusted adults, and so still need our guidance and protection. Many of them still have the youthful optimism and passion that can be examples for those of us who have developed cynicism and become set in our ways.
But the last one is closest to my heart today. We should not discount or send teenagers away. We should always be welcoming to teenagers, and seek to involve them in every aspect of our spiritual and church lives. Let’s not distance ourselves from them, but draw them close, teach them diligently, provide solid examples of passionate pursuit of Christ, and view them as the blessings they are.
Jesus loves the children, even teenagers.