Why Jesus blessing the children isn't a 'nice' story

Jesus blessing the children cannot be contained by the word ‘nice’.

Very little, if anything, was included in the Bible simply because it was ‘nice’.

But often that's a word we'll assign to a particular story or message. I wonder if we're even more likely to describe a story as 'nice' when it involves children?

One story you might be familiar with as a 'nice' one is that of Jesus blessing the children (Mark 10:13-16).

It’s perhaps a deceptively simple story – but as often with Jesus there are surprises along the way. That’s very on-brand for Jesus, isn’t it? Just when we think we’ve got him figured out, Jesus will say or do something that flips things upside down.

One of the surprises we see in this story is Jesus’ anger; this seems to be one of the times in the gospels when Jesus gets the most angry. When we see Jesus get angry, it’s often when those who are in positions of power, or those who should ‘know better’, dismiss those on the margins, making it harder for them to get to know God.

It seems like the disciples were making decisions about who should have access to Jesus – who could get near to him, who could speak to him, who was included and who was excluded.

When we look at the whole story of Jesus’ life, we can see that Jesus is consistently redefining what it looks like to be ‘qualified’ or ‘worthy’. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing in this story.

And they were bringing children to him 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. Mark 10.13-16 (ESV)

“You don’t get to decide who’s in, and who’s out,” says Jesus.


What’s also surprising about this story is that Jesus says these children are models of discipleship. At that time, children had no power or influence in society, and as such they were completely depend on others. If you like, they were experts at receiving, unable to give anything in return.

I wonder if that’s why Jesus enjoyed spending time with children so much? While adults would come to him with notions of what he could do for them, or what he could teach them, these little ones had no preconceived notions. Their only interest was spending time with him.

Children were experts at receiving the Kingdom for what it was: a free gift.


The third surprise… who actually were these children? It has been suggested that these children had had a difficult start in life. It’s been suggested that they were actually very marginalised; that for a variety of reasons these children hadn’t been welcomed into a family with blessing and love.

That’s what makes this story so radical; that’s why it’s not just ‘nice’. Jesus encountered these children who had been excluded, who faced injustice and disadvantage, who perhaps were really lacking in some of the things that every child needs to thrive and flourish. And he blessed them. He told them: You belong. You are home in the Kingdom. You have a family. You are loved.

Ephraim Radner (quoted in Anne Richards’ book referenced below) helps us tease out the implications of this: “To bless something, in the New Testament, is to disclose its goodness as from God, as from God’s creative hand for God’s life-giving purpose.”

Later, Anne Richards says:

“The bestowing of blessing is a serious business, since it emulates the primordial acts of God. Blessing is not about external attributes like getting a gold star for a particularly good piece of homework; it is about naming the essentials of things…

So every child who is excluded from school, every ‘difficult’ child, every child who goes off the rails, every adolescent stomping off in a huff, every child who brings ‘shame’ on the family, these are pronounced ‘good’ by Jesus in the act of blessing. There is no child anywhere who deserves less than the unconditional love of God, and if we want to share God’s kingdom then we too must find ways to allow such children to come to us and be blessed and to discern where children can find and know themselves blessed.”


It’s hard for me to read this story and understand this background without thinking of the thousands of children in the UK today who are lacking the things they need to thrive; who have been similarly marginsalised due to their life circumstances; who don’t feel that they belong, who don’t have the support and stability of ‘family’.

This story should confront us. If our mission as God’s people is to reflect His image and join Him in building His Kingdom, here on earth as it is in Heaven, then the way we welcome children matters.

What would it look like for you to bless and embrace children on the margins today?


Tim teaches Biblical Studies and Mission at Redcliffe College in Gloucester and has a PhD in the Old Testament. He leads the College’s newly established Fostering, Adoption and the Church research project and serves on Home for Good’s Council of Reference.

Further reading suggestions:

van Aarde, A., Fatherless in Galilee: Jesus as a Child of God (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 2001)

Gundry, J., ‘Children in the Gospel of Mark, with Special Attention to Jesus’ Blessing of the Children (Mark 10:13-16) and the Purpose of Mark’, in in M.J. Bunge, T.E. Fretheim ad B.R. Gaventa (eds.), The Child in the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), pp. 143-176

Richards, A., Children in the Bible: A Fresh Approach (London: SPCK, 2013)

Author:
Dr Tim Davy


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