New International Version (NIV)
The Little Children and Jesus
13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
Mark, more than any of the other gospel writers, liked to tell stories in which the disciples behaved like cretins and idiots. (Makes you wish you’d known Mark, right?) But all of this castigating of the disciples serves a purpose, because it consistently gives Mark a way to reveal new aspects of Jesus’ character and his nature. People love this image of Jesus with his arms around children, blessing them – and there’s definitely something piercingly sweet in the idea that Jesus took time to express caring even toward the littlest of his followers while he was here on earth. But I think his comment to the disciples is directly correlated to the actions the disciples had just taken. By rebuking the children, the disciples were attempting to allow Jesus to get on with “more important business.” They didn’t think it was worth his while to spend time on those who couldn’t support his eventual campaign and the establishment of his kingdom on earth (refer to pretty much all of the book of Mark for corroboration of what I’m saying here). By specifically correcting their behavior, Jesus is not only forcing them to rethink who he is and reconstruct their priorities, he’s trying to make it clear yet another time that his kingdom might not be exactly like what they have in their heads. Jesus always spoke about a spiritual kingdom, and the disciples always heard his words as if they referred to an earthly kingdom. Yet if they would have stopped to consider, there was really no way that Jesus’ words in this passage could possibly have referred to an earthly kingdom. No wonder they were always confused – they were always trying to read their own meaning onto what he said! The disciples’ neverending density in the book of Mark is something it’s fairly easy to scoff at, but really I think that we frequently make the same mistake ourselves. When we twist his words to suit our own purposes, we do the same thing. When we become overly concerned with politics, with material ambition, with anything other than pursuing his will and increasing the spiritual kingdom he established, we are doing the same thing as the disciples. Children look to those older than themselves with complete trust and openness, and it is only when we approach Jesus with those same qualities that we are really able to enter into his kingdom fully.