Friday, September 28, 2007

Indignant Jesus

The story of Jesus rebuking his disciples for hindering people from bringing their babies to him has often been used by Presbyterians in their argument for infant baptism.
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).
On some level, of course, it works as proof for infant baptism simply because of the way Jesus treats these little children (paidea) and because of the fact that he concludes with a saying about entrance into his kingdom.

It is important to remember that there's a huge transition underway at this time. The old people of God are going to be transformed into something new in union with Christ. The kingdom promised in the Hebrew Scriptures is at hand. And in the end when Jesus concludes with the saying, "Amen, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like child shall not enter it," he is speaking to Israel and warning them about receiving his ministry.

Every member of the Jewish community was being challenged to humbly receive Jesus and his kingdom. Everyone had to enter Jesus' new kingdom as a child. Therefore, it is appropriate to use this passage for baptism. All baptism is infant baptism. Every one who enters the kingdom does so as a baby. Adult baptism is not the ideal so that we have to find a way to make an exception for infants. Infant baptism is the norm and we need to be careful not to think that adult baptisms are somehow different.

A closer examination, however, leads me in another interesting direction. These children being brought to Jesus were already part of the people of God. They had gone through the entrance rituals and been accepted in the community. To put it in terms appropriate to the post-Pentecost situation, these children were already baptized. They were not being brought to Jesus in order to enter the community of the people of God. They were already members of it.

The problem was that the disciples were treating these little children as if they were not an important part of the community. Their parents were being rebuked by the disciples for bothering Jesus with requests that he "touch" their children. Apparently for the disciples, Jesus kingdom had to do with weightier matters than touching and blessing little children.

Applying this to today, I ask: where is the locus of Christ's presence in the community of the people of God? If someone today wants to "come to" Jesus, where do they go? If a parent wants to bring their little one to Jesus, where will they find him? Well, we confess that Jesus' special presence is at the Lord's Table, eating and drinking with him. Participating in the Lord's Supper is the closest we get to him, or better, he gets to us, until the Second Coming.

And the Table is for the entire body of Christ. The "one loaf" represents the one body of Christ: "Because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of one loaf" (1 Cor. 10:17). According to Paul just a few chapters from this, everyone who is baptized is baptized into the one body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-13). Moreover, the weaker members of the body are to be respected and served because they are to have "greater honor" in the body. We all know these admonitions in 1 Cor. 12. But have we applied them to the weakest, seemingly insignificant members of Christ's body—the baptized little children of the church? Well, no, traditionally we have not.

Like the disciples we rebuke parents who want to bring their children to eat with Jesus at his Table. We hinder them from coming. These children have to wait. They don't know enough. They are not mature enough. They haven't memorized their catechism yet. They cannot recite the difference between the Reformed, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic positions on the real presence. Give then some crayons and let them color while the bread and wine are being passed. If they reach out and act as if they are part of the family of God and entitled to participate at the family Table and "sense" their inclusion, then swat their little hands so they don't do it again.

When Jesus says, "Let the little children come to me," he's not only talking about baptism. He also wants to them to "come to him" regularly. He wants to feed all his children at his Table and have them grow up knowing that they belong to his kingdom. They are not second class, half-way members of his covenant family. The tactile, sensory "touch" of Jesus (Mark. 10:16) is experienced at the Table. Without it, children will never have the full experience and assurance that ought to accompany the confession "Jesus loves me, this I know for the Bible tells me so." The Bible does tell them it is so, but baptism and the Lord's Table confirm and seal Gods love for them in ways that words alone cannot.

The bottom line: Jesus is indignant.

4 comments:

Jeff Cagle said...

Nicely put. Especially:


The problem was that the disciples were treating these little children as if they were not an important part of the community. Their parents were being rebuked by the disciples for bothering Jesus with requests that he "touch" their children. Apparently for the disciples, Jesus kingdom had to do with weightier matters than touching and blessing little children.


Question: have you really seen little hands being swatted?

Jeff C

Jeff Meyers said...

Yes. It happens all the time. Perhaps "swat" is too strong. But pushed back and held down. But however it's done, the problem is that when the bread and wine are passed around or over the children they EXPERIENCE their outsider status. They sense and know that they are not part of the family dinner.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. I have encouraged my children to go to the table, my 6 years old loves the idea and loves his savior and wants nothing more than to "have service", yet my 8 year old has wanted nothing to do with the Lord's supper until yesterday, when she said she would love to begin taking communion. I know she has loved Jesus all of her life yet only this weekend has she stated that she wants more. Do you think I should have made her take it or do you think I am right in allowing her to have the desire for a deeper relationship? jimmy F.

Tim C. said...

Very good, thanks Pastor Meyers