Let the Children Come to Me — Matthew 19:13–15

The King’s Instructions

Advent 2021

These are the sort of passages I dread, ones that I have heard over and over. It makes it difficult to come up with anything new, and if I do, will people be upset?

Children playing outside.
Free image on Wikimedia Commons

13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went away.

Matthew 19:13–15

A tale of rejection and acceptance

I have heard this short passage used as a basis of many sermons, only a few of them ever took into account the context of where it happened in Jesus like or the context of where it appears in Matthew’s Gospel. It has been said that if you remove context all you have left is a pretext.

In Jesus life it takes place during Jesus’ journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, down the east bank of the River Jordan before crossing the Jordan again near Jericho, the journey is told as a number of meetings Jesus had with people along the way. In Mathew’s Gospel it comes between an encounter with Pharisees who had rejected Jesus and come with a question trying to trip him up and an encounter with a rich young ruler, who also rejects Jesus.

There are four groups of people in this story, children, parents, disciples and Jesus.

The children get no say in this, they are being brought by their parents. The parents are not in this instance bringing sick children to be healed, just asking for a blessing. Why would they be doing this? We are not told. But we are told that when Jesus was a young child he was taken to the temple in Jerusalem and the Spirit led Simeon there, and Simeon blessed Jesus. (Luke 2:27:35). There is a parallel between these two passages. Mary and Joseph took baby Jesus to Jerusalem in order to fulfil the law. Jesus is making his final trip to Jerusalem in order to fulfil the law in a way that the people had no idea it would happen.

The easy way to look at this passage is to go back a chapter to where Jesus had invited a child to stand in front of them and said, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3). That is fine in that situation, where the child decides to come forwards This is different, these children have not decided to come, they have been brought by their parents.

Jesus is accepting the wrong people. He is going to children and accepting them just after he has spoken to the Pharisees harshly, the disciples were shocked ar both, Jesus is accepting the ones who should be rejected, the children and rejecting the ones who should be accepted, the Pharisees. He will then let a man who has an impeccable religious record as well as influence and money walk away. How can Jesus spread his message when he is not going for the influencers?

Jesus will let people walk away from him, But he accepts all who come to him:

  • But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, John 1:12
  • All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. John 6:37
  • Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

Jesus accepts all who come to him, irrespective of age. Even those who are brought.

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