In the Mediterranean culture of 2000 years young children largely lacked status; for the Jews, recognition and value came with the ceremonial transition to adulthood.
Yet, the gospel readings for the coming three Sundays all show Jesus deliberately identifying little children with himself and with entry into the Kingdom of God. In each context, Jesus is challenging the assumptions of those around him about status and importance and about faithful service to God. In each case there is an emphasis on welcoming children and protecting and encouraging their relationship with God, for the child and as ‘being childlike’ as illustration of true relationship with God.
Little children put their trust in parents, are wholly dependent on them for care, security and love. Little children have a straightforwardness, an honesty of purpose which has not become complicated by prejudices, goal-seeking or self-doubts. They live in the moment and, if not constrained by fearful circumstances, respond with love, delight and playfulness to the world around them.
Jesus speaks of the need to be like a child in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 18:3) Over the coming weeks we are invited by these accounts from Jesus’ ministry to look at how we relate to the world with a childlike heart, a heart that delights in our surroundings, looks for the best in others and simply gives and seeks love.
Jesus also speaks of those who welcome a little child in his name as welcoming Jesus himself. Interacting with little children is exciting, demanding, full of potential and risk, sometimes scary, a time of new and shared discovery, of growth. I wonder, is this how Jesus invites us to welcome our interaction with him?