Indifference to The Least of These

On this Mother’s Day, regardless of what this day means to you, we can agree that children are important to Jesus.

Throughout history, people have attempted to paint the perfect portrait of Jesus. Sometimes, He's smiling. Sometimes, He's crying or praying. We all have our gentle, sweet image of Jesus, but that picture isn't complete. If we're really going to understand the Savior of the Bible, it's time to take a fresh look. For years, Christians have asked, "What would Jesus do?" But what if we asked a more illuminating question, "What made Jesus mad?"

The theme verse through this series is from Matthew 23:13, "You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people's faces." The three times that the Bible says Jesus was mad is in the temple when religious activity blocked access for the Gentiles to get to God (He had a “temple tantrum” there), the Sabbath healing where He was grieved by the hardness of their hearts (they cared more about the rules than people getting to God) and the woman caught in adultery (stay tuned). His people, church people, missed the point - people's needs. 

People need access to God and they need care. God's first commandment is love God. The second commandment is love your neighbor. Who's your neighbor? It's God's kid. We can't make God happy when we’re blocking His children from a healthy relationship with Him or neglecting real needs. The Pharisees were busy counting out their dill seeds for their tithe and straining gnats from their drinks so they didn’t eat anything unkosher. But, all the while, God’s kids were in need all around them. They just didn't care, or didn’t take time to look up from their religion to notice. The point is not to focus on following religious rules in order to please God, but to love God and love your neighbor. By the way, you can't do one without the other. 

Today, my focus is the case of Jesus’ own disciples. "People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them." They're like, "No kids right now. Jesus is busy." When Jesus saw this, He was indignant. What made Jesus mad? His disciples were blocking the children from coming to Him. I always imagined Jesus saying “Let the kids come to me” in a soft, gentle voice. But, this is in His mad voice, “You knuckleheads, it's not about all the important adult stuff. These are the people that need to get to God.” I know the disciples had good intentions, but this made Jesus mad. As a matter of fact, He followed it up with the craziest statement Jesus ever made, “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6 NIV). This sounds like Tony Soprano, not how I imagined Jesus speaking based on my Sunday school pictures.

Don't think that maybe I’m misreading this. It was literally a form of capital punishment back then, and Jesus is saying, "If you block the children from coming to me, if you cause one of them to stumble, if you get in the way of the faith development of a child, it would be better for you to be thrown into the sea." Then, in verse 10, He went on, and threatened them with angels, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” It’s like “Say hello to my little friends, the angels, if you mess with the children.” I mean, doesn't it sound like the mafia? It's concrete shoes and angelic protection, so don't mess with them.

What's going on here? What's the gist of this whole thing with the kids? Mark's version tells us that the disciples had been arguing about who's going to be great in Jesus’ kingdom. The disciples were pretty young at this point. They're walking along, and they're arguing one day about who's going to be number one, like, "I'm going to sit next to Jesus." The funny thing is, at some point in this discussion, James and John's mother got involved. She asked Jesus if her sons could sit next to Him on the throne when He comes into His kingdom. The other disciples were like "Your mom's here asking Jesus if you could ride shotgun in the kingdom?" Jesus answered them, giving perspective of what’s important, “He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me’” (Matthew 18:2-5 NIV).

You start to get the depth of Jesus' feeling. We're back to the issue at hand. Jesus was mad when somebody was blocking access to the kingdom, especially when it was the ones who had the least access and were not part of the inner circle or even the circle. In the temple, they were blocking the Gentiles. On the Sabbath, they were all about the rules, and it was the rule breakers, the sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes who were the furthest away. The religious people were blocking them from access to Jesus, and Jesus got mad. 

Kids had little to no value in that culture. But, Jesus said, "No, no, no. Whatever you do to the least of these, you do it to me. Don't mess with them or it'd be better for you to be thrown into the sea." If you welcome a child, you welcome me. The phrase “to stumble” there was interesting to me. I didn't really understand what Jesus meant by that. The phrase “to hinder, to stumble” is “skandalizo”, which is literally the thing that made Jesus mad. It literally means to block access to God. 

So, what do we do with this truth on Mother’s Day? There's a deep issue of our children and their faith that Jesus is very serious about. I mean,He uses mafia language to make His point that we need to be very serious about the souls of the children. I would say we have to be really careful not to do anything that would damage a child's faith in a trustworthy God by being an untrustworthy guardian. If you brought kids into this world, you should take it very seriously because Jesus views a child's faith as something worth protecting. We need to do everything we can to help the faith of the next generation. Children are important. Don't block the children. If you have children, their soul is of premium importance. The children of the world are also that important. Let the little children come to Him and do not hinder them.