Sermon October 4, 2009 Blessing the Kingdom Mark 10:2-16
“Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.”
“You must receive the kingdom of God as a little child.”
“Your kingdom come, your will be done.”
There is a standard interpretation of Mark 10:13-16 that attempts to surmise what Jesus understood about child psychology. Preachers for years have said we are to be like kids, and so it follows we need to know about kids. Possibilities abound, and include kids being cute, accepting, trusting, humble, open-minded, ignorant, dependant, etc… It’s left to the preacher to decide exactly what Jesus meant, usually bolstered by silly stories of one’s own children. We need to be like kids, because according to this interpretation unless we can pull that off we won’t ever enter the kingdom of God. We read it to say, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as if they were little children…”
Guessing at Jesus understanding of kids is entirely too subjective, and leaves the story pastel and void of power. Then we force that guess onto grown adults in the complexity of our modern society, leaving many of us feeling cold. Is there another interpretation that might provide more guidance for the Christian today? Perhaps.
The exact text in question is Mark 10:15, “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” The words in the metaphor can be understood in several ways. I wonder if instead of equating the listener to children, Jesus instead equates children to the kingdom. It could instead read, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as if it were a little child…” This would switch the metaphor from us receiving the kingdom as if we were children, to us receiving the kingdom as if it were a child.
Why the Switch?
Contextually, I think this makes more sense. Nowhere in the gospel of Mark do we ever see Jesus work to give us any clues as to how kids receive things. They are never key characters, never have any lines, never stories of kids being open-minded and trusting, etc… There simply is nothing to go on that leads us to a deeper understanding of Jesus’ child psychology. However, we do have some important examples of how Jesus himself receives kids. In Mark 9:37 and in our story, we are provided examples of how one is to receive kids. In Mark 9 Jesus places a child in the midst of the squabbling disciples, takes the child in his arms, and tells us “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” A clear teaching on welcoming.
In our text, the disciples are keeping kids away from Jesus (for whatever reason!). And we see an even more forceful example of Jesus receiving kids. He chastises the disciples for not receiving the kids, then he takes a child in his arms, lays his hands on him/her, and blesses him/her. Jesus was busy doing something else, and yet takes the time for the children. You don’t push the kids away! You welcome them!
Further, even without textual evidence, it is easier for us to surmise today how we receive children than it is for us to play the guessing game of child psychology. We know how to receive children, we work to give them the very best schools, health care, and church programs that money can buy!
What, then, can we assume Jesus meant when he invites us to receive the kingdom as if it were a child? First off, we are to embrace kingdom even in the midst of confusion and outright opposition. We must go against the stream of culture and not fear being different. “Do not be conformed to the ways of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” Both the Pharisees and the disciples are seen to be pushing away the kingdom here in Mark 10. Second, we need to invite the kingdom into the midst of our churches, set it on our laps, and bless it. This is Jesus’ way of showing us again what his main purpose and goal is, and our invitation to join him in working for the kingdom and nothing less. The concept of the “Whole Gospel for the Whole World” comes to mind.
What does it mean to bless the Kingdom?
Before we decide if we want to bless the kingdom, we need to know what the kingdom in question is all about. In Mark 10:1-12 Jesus has just proclaimed his kingdom gospel to the religious authorities who opposed him. This message was one of equality in relationship between husbands and wives, an equality that was meant to flow in both directions. Then in Mark 10:13-16 we get another glimpse of the kingdom: it is a movement open to all, even outsiders and fringe folks like children. In welcoming kids, Jesus signals his openness to all people who were previously excluded: woman, non-Jews and Gentiles, Samaritans, etc… Why welcome them? Because in doing so you welcome Jesus himself (Mark 9:37), and because they already have the kingdom themselves (Mark 10:14). The gospels are filled with stories of Jesus welcome! Mark’s entire project is to define the kingdom for us, but even in just our two stories for today, we catch a glimpse of the message Jesus proclaimed.
It is this kingdom picture Jesus tells us to invite into our midst, sit on our laps, lay hands on, and bless. In the midst of opposition and oppression, work for the kingdom. Like we take care of our children, let us take care of God’s kingdom of justice and righteousness, equality and hope, nonviolence and love. Which means our attention must be on local issues and people dealing with violence, racism, immigration, human trafficking, poverty and politics; not some esoteric idea of an afterlife kingdom. And let us not forget to pray for the kingdom in our midst, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.”
In the final analysis, the idea of joining a church that tries to act like kids sounds depressing. But, participating in a church that celebrates the kingdom of God and delights in its radical presence sounds energizing! Let’s bless the kingdom exactly as it is, exactly as Jesus invited us to do.