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A message for the week starting on Sunday 3 October 2021

Lectionary Week: Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Prescribed Texts: Job 1:1, 2: 1-10, Psalm 26, Hebrews 1: 1-4, 2:5-12, Mark 10: 2-16

Receiving the Kingdom of God Like a Child

Focus Text:  Mark 10: 2-16

What could possibly be the link between these two portions of Scripture: Jesus giving an explanation about marriage and divorce (Mark 10:2-12), and Jesus inviting children to be blessed by Him (Mark 10:13-16)? Consider the background of the divorce question.

Jewish scholars of the day (whom we shall remember were all male!) universally accepted Moses’ utterance in Deuteronomy 24 regarding a husband’s right to divorce his wife (important to note: women did not have the right to divorce their husbands). All that was necessary to divorce her, was “a certificate of divorce to be written” (v3-4). The certificate of divorce provided the divorced wife with legal protection and the right to remarry.

The school of Shammai interpreted Deuteronomy 24 to mean that a man might divorce his wife only in the case of adultery. The school of Hillel interpreted the same passage to mean that a man might divorce his wife for nearly any fault that he might find in her, and divorce for trivial reasons were common.

The Pharisees hoped to get Jesus to commit Himself to one side of this controversy, thereby alienating the other side. “Pharisees came to Him testing (peirazontes) Him, and asked Him” (v2). Mark uses this same word, peirazontes, to speak of Satan tempting and testing Jesus in the wilderness (1:12-13).

We must also remember Herod Antipas, who earlier divorced his wife, Aretus, to marry Herodias. She had been the wife of Antipas’ brother. John the Baptist’s criticism of that marriage led to his beheading (6:18-29). Equally Jesus’ condemnation of divorce could land Him into trouble.

Against this background of conniving, scheming and judgmental adults, Jesus’ reaction when He was brought the little children, makes much sense. Again, there were adults (this time His own disciples) who were judgmental, not accepting of the poor and the weak. “Jesus was moved with indignation” (v14).

Receiving the Kingdom of God like a child certainly does not mean sacrificing your reason and blindly leaping into faith, as some people would like to make us believe. It does, however, mean having the simple trust of a child. Children receive the Kingdom as they receive the world — as a gift. They are dependent on those around them. They come with empty hands and trusting hearts. That is the only way to receive God’s Kingdom.

What is more, receiving the Kingdom of God like a child is looking at the world from a child’s perspective – that is from below, from a level where you are not part of all the devious, scheming, judging and racist attitudes of the so-called adult world.

It is to look at the world with enchantment – a world full of the wonders of God’s creation. Even though creation also includes people with sorrow and sickness, like HIV, it does not change the reality that it is still God’s miraculous world. No wonder we read about Jesus and the children: “He took them in His arms, and blessed them, laying His hands on them.”

To think about:

What would the world be like if all people of faith practised their faith like enchanted children?

Written By: Dr Pieter Fourie, former Bible Media CEO