A community that finds inspiration in the life and words of Jesus will wish to value children. Jesus challenged the outlook of his day and society that left children on the edge, having to wait to engage with the things that ‘really matter’ until they had crossed the threshold into adulthood. He was angered when his disciples tried to save him from the hassle of having to put up with inquisitive and playful children when he had so many more important things with which to deal (Mark 10.13-16).
When his disciples were arguing about greatness, he took a child and placed the child in their midst as a new focus for their aspirations. The disciples were invited to ‘become like children’ (Matthew 18.1-4). We are told that to welcome the child is to welcome Jesus, and so to welcome the one who sent him (Mark 9.37). At the beginning of the last week of his life, Jesus delighted in the praises of the children in the temple (Matthew 21.15-16). A community listening to these words and reflecting on these actions will resist keeping children on the margins of their community life. The child will be welcomed in, recognised as a whole person created in God’s image and invited to share in the life of God’s people within the reign of God’s love. The child will have much to give as well as to receive. Adults need children in their midst to remind them of the nature of the kingdom.
Such a community will be horrified at any harm done to a child, and will wish to offer a child the best environment in which to grow and develop into the person God intends. It will resist the temptation to turn a deaf ear to the appeals for help from a child – because it will create an environment in which children’s voices are always taken seriously. At one point we find powerful and evocative language on the lips of Jesus when he speaks of the consequences of being a stumbling block to ‘one of the least of these’. (Matthew 18.6-10) Indeed the Christian community will be particularly concerned to stand alongside the child as part of the calling of the people of God to be on the side of the powerless, the vulnerable, the voiceless and the marginalised in the world. Sadly, the Christian church has for too long not wanted to listen to the children in its own midst who are being harmed, let alone stand and speak for those beyond the community of the church. The God whom we worship and serve is the one who ‘heals the broken hearted, and binds up their wounds’ (Psalm 147.3). This same Psalm goes on to declare that this is the God who ‘blesses your children within you’ (Psalm 147.13).