My children are frequently disobedient—as children tend to be. They got it from their mother, my wife, and . . . from their grandparents. Okay, they got it from me too. But my involvement is more or less irrelevant at this point. So tuck my disobedient children away for a moment. We’ll be returning to this them.
Blessing the Little Children
In developing the theme of discipleship in Luke 18, it has been seen that unceasing prayer in to be honored (18:1-8) as well as the ministerial truth that mercy and humility must be at the root of prayer (18:9-14). In a natural continuation out of Christ’s parable, Luke shows how these elements come into play in practical life. It is at this point in his Gospel, Luke tells the infamous story of Jesus blessing the little children. Since most scholars of the synoptic Gospels presume Luke did not arrange his material chronologically, it is safe to assume that the prayer laden instruction from Jesus is actually tied into this event. As one might expect then, Luke uses some different wording than the other Gospels that helps present some insight to the why of the story,
15 And they were bringing even their babies to Him so that He would touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them. 16 But Jesus called for them, saying, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” —Luke 18:15-17
The first difference in Luke’s rendition is “infants” (translated “babies” above), so these weren’t just children being brought before Jesus. These babies could not have reached Christ on their own. They were, in fact, carried. This is hardly meaningless. Scripture regularly shows the potential for blessing even for those incapable of understanding what was happening to them. This theme of people being brought to Jesus because of physical infirmity, being ill, or demon possessed is common throughout the Gospels. People of all ages and ailments were physically brought to Jesus because they could not bring themselves.
The second difference in Luke’s rendition is that the babies are brought to be “touched” by Jesus. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus lays hands on the children and prayers (Matt 19:13), but for Mark and Luke the word “touch” is used. This slight word change ties the activity of Jesus back to His numerous healings throughout the gospels. Both Luke and Mark focus intently on how healing occurs when Christ touches (Matthew includes these stories but also emphasizes how Christ can heal with his words). Taken at face value, Luke could be insinuating that these children needed healing but that makes the disciples’ decision even stranger. Instead, it should be read as a general insight that what the Messiah touched was often healed, made clean, and pronounced as purified. And to the disciples this status seemed wasted on babies.
Carried unto Christ
These are the truths of the gospel. People are carried unto Christ because they are spiritually infirmed. It is the real touch of Jesus Christ that purifies people. Christian discipleship should recognize all these things to be true and facilitate them. However, unchecked discipleship can result in the mannerism of the disciples. They “rebuked” the infirmed and those carrying them. Perhaps they were concerned about the Savior’s precious time. Perhaps he was extra tired from the healing or was unable to teach them as much during such days. In either case, the disciples had decided that they were not (yet?) worth of Jesus’ time.
Now reintroduce my disobedient children. As their father before them, they are a rebellious lot. Sinful and fallen decisions are made that should not be made. And yet it would be silly for me to propose that my youngest, Judah, apologize to me and explain why he desires my love and forgiveness. No. To a certain symbolic degree he is infirmed. He cries when punished and does not understand the torments of a fallen world. I cannot wait for him to come to me. I must go to him and reassure him that my forgiveness is there. Sometimes, when he has sinned against his mother I pick him up and take him to her so that she can show him the forgiveness that he does not yet know he needs.
As a parent I am called to make forgiveness, comfort, and love accessible to my children. I do these as a stand-in example of the Father and Son. True Christian discipleship should not make Christ less accessible. This can be done through our attitudes, preferences, and behavior. We can obscure the Lord with our theological language, Bible studies, and commentary quotes. The growing disciple of Christ should be increasingly sensitive and compassionate to the infirmed who cannot bring themselves to Christ and who may not remember their encounter with Christ. For it is in these encounters that Christ touches and heals people for His kingdom.
Joshua Torrey is a New Mexico boy in an Austin, TX world. He is husband to Alaina and father to Kenzie & Judah and spends his free time studying for the edification of his household. These studies include the intricacies of hockey, football, curling, beer, and theology. You can follow him @benNuwn and read his theological musings and running commentary of the Scriptures at The Torrey Gazette.