Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Child-like Faith
Volume 6 No. 359 July 22, 2016
II. Lectionary Reflections

Welcoming the Child

by Amy Allen

Gospel: Mark 9:30-37, Matthew 18:1-5

"Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me…" (Mark 9:37a)

It seems easy. So easy we can almost brush it off. Smile approvingly at the Sunday School teacher seated across the aisle from us in worship, and check one more thing off our spiritual to-do-list. Welcome little children? Done. We might ask ourselves, "How dense could these power grubbing disciples have been to miss so simple a point as this?"

But take a look across that same aisle once again… If your church is like many, there may be an usher giving a mother a dirty look as she walks her small child to the bathroom. Or a father putting his finger to his lip, afraid that his toddler's whispers might disrupt someone. Or maybe a middle-aged gentleman checking the church's giving record, calculating in his head what percent of the church's income comes from his check. Or a young woman dressed just so, glancing at a hand mirror to check her make up.

Whether it is through money, clothes, or any number of superficial doings, it is human to want to impress. Putting our best foot forward, we call it. In any social setting - even and sometimes especially in worship - we are playing this political game. We are vying for our social status, for our position of greatness…to be in the "in group" whatever group that might be.

Before we judge the disciples too hastily in this scene, we should remember that they aren't dueling for the seat next to Jesus, or conducting a gallup poll. We have no reason to believe that they are even letting their dispute disrupt their collaboration in ministry. This is just something they were talking about - speculating "along the way." It was idle conversation on a road trip. "Who do you think is the greatest?" But Jesus heard them. And it was no more polite in their day to let such speculation be heard aloud than it is today.

They were embarrassed. Maybe wondering, "How will he think I'm the greatest if he knows that I even have to ask?" The only thing more embarrassing than being caught in this sort of social guffaw? Jesus doesn't just feed them some line about how they are all his favorites, or settle the argument with a, "Since you really had to ask, X is the greatest," sort of reproach. No, Jesus doesn't chastise them or name one of them, or even one or more people outside of their "in group." Jesus picks up a small child - probably the son or daughter of one of the many disciples accompanying Jesus on the way, though it doesn't seem to matter.

"Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me…" (Mark 9:37a)

Children occupied an interesting place in the first century household (for Jews and Romans alike). They represented the future - they would carry on the family name, provide for their aging parents, and produce the next generation. But in the present, they were a liability. Small children, especially, were more likely to contract an illness and to die. They participated in the household labor, but were not yet fully productive, and still represented another mouth to feed. Many historians of this time period compare the status of children in such a situation to that of a slave. However, the power dynamics were more powerful than that. On the one hand, an adult slave could be "worth" more in the present; on the other hand, even the smallest child was a member of the "household" - an honor to which a slave was unlikely (and in most cases unable) to attain.

Children were insiders left on the outside. And they are the ones Jesus commands us to welcome. On the one hand, this is just another instance of Jesus turning the expectations of the world upside down. It is a great reversal in the name of justice, the kind of which Luke's gospel is famous for - read the magnificat there. But on the other hand, here in Mark's gospel we also experience something else. With children, at least, the power dynamics are not so black and white - it is not so much a question of who is great and who is not, but instead it is a question of welcome.

Put another way, Jesus isn't interested in who we say is the greatest or even in who acts like the greatest or looks to be great. Jesus is interested in who acts with the greatest grace, compassion, and love.

"Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me…" (Mark 9:37a)

Look again at that toddler across the aisle. Is his father still shushing him? Does he look "welcomed" as he fidgets in his seat? What about the little girl coming back from the bathroom? Is she fully a part of what is happening in her midst? What about all of the children who aren't present? The children who went to bed hungry or need healthcare? The children who have abusive parents or no parents at all? We argue about great schools in our country while there are children in other countries without the privilege to step into a school at all. We spend thousands of dollars send our children to soccer or dance camps in suburbia, while there are children in our own country whose families will not see that kind of money in a year.

How do we welcome the child? How do we welcome our Lord?

About The Author:

Amy Allen is a Theology and Practice fellow in New Testament at Vanderbilt University. She and her family reside in Franklin, TN.

[Editor's Note:

SOC tradition teaches that the child Jesus lifted up became the first Patriarch Ignatius.]

Kingdom Greatness

by RC Sproul

Matthew 18:1–4 "Calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said…'Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven'" (vv. 2–4).

Once again the disciples display their knack for missing the point when they ask Jesus: "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" (Mat. 18:1). This question, the other gospel writers tell us, results from an argument between the disciples over who will have the highest status in the kingdom (Mark 9:33–37; Luke 9:46–48). The analogy our Lord made earlier between God and the kings of the earth (Matt. 17:24–27) may be what has spurred the disciples to talk about the kingdom again, but the way in which they are viewing the kingdom of heaven is the problem. Christ has just emphasized the reality of His death and that His followers must likewise suffer (16:21–28; 17:22–23), but these images of powerlessness have had little impact on the disciples' values. They are grasping for power and status in the kingdom of heaven.

Our Savior's answer refutes the ungodly attitude of the disciples. Greatness, He says, belongs only to those who humble themselves like a child (18:2–4). Jesus is not saying that children are naturally humble; experience teaches us otherwise. He is emphasizing the objective reality of childhood. Children rely almost entirely on adults to survive, and they have not lived long enough to claim lasting success or merit for themselves. Christians must cast off dreams of power or status and, like a child, admit their ultimate dependence on God for all things. Rather than seek status in the eyes of men, they should rely more and more on the Father. It is not wrong to seek church office (1 Tim. 3:1), but we must desire leadership only to serve others, not to grab status or power for ourselves. John Calvin says the humble person "neither claims any personal merit in the sight of God, nor proudly despises brethren, or aims at being thought superior to them, but reckons it enough that he is one of the members of Christ, and desires nothing more than that the Head alone should be exalted."

Such principles are entirely at odds with the world's way of doing things. The non-Christians around us are motivated by a desire to get ahead of the next guy. Our profession of Christ is wanting when we as individuals or a corporate body seek to lord our authority, power, or status over others (Matt. 20:20–28).

Coram deo: Living before the face of God

Matthew Henry writes: "The humblest Christians are the best Christians and most like to Christ, and highest in his favor, and fittest to serve in this world, and enjoy him in another." Humble believers have an honest assessment of their own abilities and are examples of what it means to have regard for Jesus' honor, not their own. We will point others to Jesus if we possess these qualities. Consider the humble people you know and imitate them as they imitate Christ.

For further study:

Psalm 149

Source: INTO the WORD daily Bible studies from TableTalk Magazine, Matthew Studies. Copyright © 2008 by Ligonier Ministries.

The Value of Children
Gospel: Matthew 18:10-14; 19:13-15

The first part of today's reading is a continuation of what Jesus was teaching about the value of little children who believe in Him. Today we learn that it's wrong to despise little believers because God places such a high value upon them. He cares about them so much that He has specially-assigned angels that watch over them. That tells us how God values them. People on earth hire guards to watch and protect only what is valuable to them, and God is the same. Also, those specially-assigned angels are not second-string angels who have nothing else to do, and thus God makes them watch children just to keep them busy. They are not angels who are low-on-the-totem pole angels, who live in the most remote places in heaven, far from the action. No, the angels who watch over God's little children are angels who are very close to God, constantly in His presence.

Some children believe in Jesus, but are led astray, just like a sheep might wander away from its flock. Jesus said that is was not the will of His Father that a believing child would ever go astray and ultimately perish, and He will go to great lengths to seek and rescue that child. So we should have the same attitude towards younger believers. Did you realize how special and important you are to God?

This is why your parents are taking time each day to teach you God's Word. You're very important to God, and no matter what other important things your parents have to do, the most important thing they can do is what they're doing right now.

Unfortunately, just one chapter later, we find that as parents were bringing their children to Jesus for Him to lay hands on them and pray for them, the disciples were telling the parents not to bother Him. Why? Simply because they didn't think that such children were worthy of Jesus' time. But Jesus corrected them sternly. Jesus treated kids like most people only treat politicians, company presidents and movie stars!

Q. So you're a kid and now you know how much God values you. Should you now strut around like a proud peacock, expecting people to treat you like a president or movie star?

A. No, God wants you to be a servant, considering others as being more important than yourself. He loves you a great deal, but not more than anyone else.


It's wonderful to know that God loves all His children very much, young and old. That is why we should love each other, and not overlook anyone who believes in Jesus.

Source: Family Style Devotions

Let the Children Come to Jesus

by The Rev. Charles Henrickson

Gospel: Mark 10:2-16

A portion of the Holy Gospel from Mark 10, reads as follows:

"And they were bringing children to [Jesus] that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.' And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them."

This is our text.

"Let the children come to me," Jesus says. And he's still saying that today. What does it mean for us, with our children, and in our spheres of influence, that Jesus is fairly adamant and insistent about this? "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them." What are ways that we might be hindering children from coming to Jesus? What are ways we can help bring them to him? And what in the world is Jesus talking about when he says "for to such belong the kingdom of God"? Is there something special about children that makes them especially qualified for the kingdom? These are questions we'll explore this morning as we consider the theme, "Let the Children Come to Jesus."

"Let the children come to me; do not hinder them." Now to whom was Jesus saying this in the first place? And why would they be trying to hinder the children from coming to him? Jesus is saying this to his disciples, of all people. You would think they would want everybody to come to Jesus. But no. Not in this case. At least not all the children that were being brought to Jesus. I suppose the disciples were thinking they were doing a service for Jesus. Protecting his busy schedule. Guarding his time. Not wanting him to be bothered with seeing a bunch of little kids. Save his time for the important people. So they were shooing the moms and dads away when they were bringing the little ones to him. "Sorry, the master's too busy to see all these little children."

Well, no, he's not! And Jesus tells the disciples this in no uncertain terms. It seems that Jesus thinks his time is well spent in blessing little children. He does not see them as unimportant or of no worth. On the contrary, we see Jesus over and over again in the gospels spending time and attention on people that the world--or even the respectable people in the church--might see as marginal or valueless: little children, lepers, a poor widow, a Gentile woman, a disreputable tax collector. These are people Jesus cares about, and thus God cares about--and thus we should care about them, too.

But surely we do not hinder the children from coming to Jesus, do we? We wouldn't do something like that! Well, maybe not intentionally. But then the disciples had good intentions, and yet they were rebuked by Jesus about this.

How do we hinder children from coming to Jesus? We're not shooing the moms and dads away when they bring their kids here, are we? No, in fact, we'd love it if more parents would bring their children to church. But when they do, let's make sure we welcome them. Little kids sometimes make a little noise during the service. But I'd much rather have that than to have no noise and no kids. That's a small point. I think we pretty good on that.

But by far the biggest problem is when parents do not take their children to church. I'm talking about Christian parents, people who should know better. They are literally hindering the children from coming to Jesus. They are being derelict in their office as parents. Moms and dads--especially you dads in your position as the spiritual head of the household--your number one responsibility as parents is to raise your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. And that means, first of all, getting them baptized and bringing them to church. Every Sunday. I don't care if it's baseball, basketball, ballet, sleepovers, or just sleeping in, nothing is more important--nothing--than being in the Lord's house on the Lord's Day. To keep that day holy, to hold it sacred, means to not let anything else interfere with it. It means being in church, with your children, so you all together can hear God's Word and gladly hear and learn it. When you don't do that, you are failing in your responsibility. You are hindering the children from coming to Jesus their Savior, who wants to bless them.

And then there's what happens in the home. Are the children being taught in the home? Are you teaching them the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, and the Lord's Prayer? These are basics. The children need to learn the catechism, from infancy on up, and the parents are the primary catechists. Are you seeing that when the children get older, they take catechism instruction and get confirmed. You need to do that.

One other thing that hinders children from coming to Jesus, something that's mentioned in the first part of the Gospel reading today: It's when father and mother divorce. Divorce is not only a sin against God's institution of marriage, it also hurts children. It damages them. And the resulting break-up of the home, the switching around of visitation from place to place--that does no favors as far as getting the children to church on Sunday morning.

What a mess we make of God's good design for the family! Failing in our responsibility of faithfully, regularly, bringing our children to Jesus, both in the church and in the home--this is to our shame. I must tell you, I must confess, I too have failed in many ways and at many times in my responsibilities as husband and father. Lord, have mercy upon us!

And now--now that I've heaped all this guilt on you, and justly so, for we are all guilty of sin in this regard--now that you've heard the bad news, let me tell you the good news: The Lord does have mercy on us! God is in the business of forgiving sinners like you and me. He declares into our ears that his own Son, Christ Jesus, died for sinners just like us. Christ shed his holy blood to cover, to atone for, all our sins, including our failures in raising our children according to God's will. The slate is wiped clean.

More than that, God now picks us up and gets us going again in the right direction. There is hope for you and your family, no matter how badly you have messed things up. God is in the restoration business. He's even in the resurrection business. He brings life out of death.

So with that new life from God, what are some ways we can let the children come to Jesus? How can we practically help? Of course, if you are parents of little children, the obvious thing is to flip around those failures: Start taking the children to church every Sunday. Start doing devotions in the home. Do table prayers together--which means having family meals together, by the way. Teach your children the Commandments and the Creed and the Lord's Prayer. When they're a little older, get them catechized and confirmed, so they can receive the Lord's Supper. Maybe it won't all come together at once--there will be fits and starts--but the main thing is to get going in the right direction. And when you stumble, ask the Lord for his forgiveness and help, and he will help you get back on your feet. He's also given you a church and a pastor, and we're here to encourage you and help you along the way.

But you know, most of the folks here today may not have little ones in the home anymore. They've grown up and moved on. They have children of their own by now. So, grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, what can you do in your spheres of influence, to help bring the children to Jesus? Many things. Pray for those children, and pray for their parents. And if you're watching the kids for the weekend, say, and you have the parents' permission, bring the children with you to church. When you're babysitting, read them some Bible stories. Or, as some of you have done, get a Bible story book and give it to the parents for their home. Lots of ways to help.

"Let the children come to me," Jesus says; "do not hinder them." OK, we've covered that. But then Jesus adds this mysterious explanation: "for to such belongs the kingdom of God." What does Jesus mean by that? Are children inherently qualified for the kingdom of God, as though they were somehow more innocent or sinless than the rest of us? No, the Bible certainly does not teach that. All of us are conceived in sin, born as sinners. We all have inherited that sinful nature from our fathers, going back to Adam. So what is it about children, that Jesus should say "for to such belongs the kingdom of God"? I think the simplest way to explain this is to say that children can only be given to. If little children are to live, they need to receive everything from outside themselves. They must be given to. They cannot fend for themselves, in terms of food, clothing, shelter, protection. They need to receive those things. And children inherently trust the ones who are caring for them.

The analogy is clear. All those who come into the kingdom of God get there by being given to. You and I cannot produce the righteousness we need to enter the kingdom of God. It's not by our works we gain heaven. It's by being given to, by God. "Truly, I say to you," Jesus says, "whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it."

Dear brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus, God our Father supplies us with everything we need to enter, and live in, the kingdom of God: the forgiveness, the righteousness, even the gift of faith itself, produced by the Holy Spirit, through the means of grace. And so we trust, like little children trusting their parents to give them what they need. In like manner, God gives us all the gifts of his grace, as pure gift, and we receive them in childlike faith.

Yes, you see, you and I are also the children who are coming to Jesus. And he will bless us. Whatever your age, whether young or old, we enter the kingdom of God only as little children, being given to, trusting in and receiving from our gracious Lord.


Malankara World Journal is published by
Copyright © 2011-2019 Malankara World. All Rights Reserved.