“Let the little children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Jesus in Mark 10:14).
We are used to our leaders fawning over children. It’s become cliche that politicians kiss babies and concerned citizens always tell us to “Think of the children!” But such tender concern for children has not always been common.
For Greeks and Romans in the first century there was virtually no sentimentality regarding children. Abortion was frequent. Infanticide was even more common. There were too many mouths to feed in the Empire. Offspring were good to work in the fields, but as small children they were unwanted. They were sometimes left for dead in the outdoors or on literal trash heaps.
The Jews treated their children better. A child was a gift from God. But still, children enjoyed no social standing. Like most women, children derived their standing from their relationship to adult males. As unique persons, little kids were better off seen and not heard.
The disciples, therefore, had good reason to think this business of bringing children to Jesus inappropriate and bothersome. Like waiting in line to ask Jesus to tie your shoe. Like clamoring for Jesus to pet your hamster. The man’s busy and should not be bothered with such trifles.
The disciples were simply managing their Master’s time. Except they had no idea what mattered to the Master. Only once is this word “indignant” used of Jesus. That’s how he felt when the Twelve shooed the children away.
Little children were not the sort of people Jesus meant to avoid. They were precisely the people he wanted to see. Jesus did not find children a bother. He cared about their little cares. Their big cares too. He was more patient with other people’s children than we are with our own. He saw them as examples more than burdens. He was tender with children and tough on those who overlooked them. Jesus loved to welcome the little children, take them in his arms, and bless them. He still does.