"Siblings in the Arms of Jesus," Pastor Kinsey
In our growing up families, children universally love and form attachment to their parents. We are all dependent on a parent, grandparent or guardian to raise us.
It’s notable, I think, that only relatively recently did scientists confirm that our brains are not fully developed into adult-like brains, until we’re 25, or so. Families are important; families form us.
Certainly, children also rebel against their parents in their teenage years, not to mention the terrible 2’s! And some families give their children adult responsibilities at a much earlier age than I know I ever had. I saw that a lot living in rural Michigan for 20 years, where basically, poverty tends to enable that, and kids often have to grow up faster. Some kids do this quite well, though even then, there are usually losses, and deficits they pay for, in their lives growing up.
There’s a large sliding scale of parent-child dynamics in our growing up families.
One of the privileges of my profession as pastor, for the last 32 years, has been to enter into a wide variety of family systems. And I mean, there are lots of ways we construct family! Some are more functional than others, and all families have dysfunction to some degree, just as a matter of course.
In our Michigan parish, there was one extended family, wracked by alcoholism, abuse, imprisonment, and a web of lies, that we realized, if we wanted to, we could spend our whole ministry, every hour of every week of every year, counseling and caring for them. So, setting boundaries on our relationship to best help them, while remaining faithful to our call, took some doing.
Another family – actually members at the neighboring Presbyterian Church, but who always sent their two children to our VBS program – was a refreshing model of healthy relationships. They not only had a successful environmental business they started on their own, but in their spare time, they had a folk band. Mom played the fiddle and dulcimer, dad guitar, and their kids started playing with them on stage as soon as they were proficient, maybe 10, 12, years old. Of course, they had their tensions and rough spots too. But the way they worked and lived together was mostly life-giving. And the son and the daughter are both professional musicians, and on their own, today.
And, in between these two family systems, there are an infinite variety of families.
Children learn from their parent, or parents. Children learn what love is especially from their parents and guardians, but have no way of knowing as they grow, if that love is healthy, or not. For better or worse, a bond is formed. We all want, and need, to be loved as we grow up. And sometimes it takes a lifetime to figure it out – those first 18, to 20, to 25 years – of our formation. And so we internalize whatever blessings, or meanness, we learn from our parent. Almost every child has some hurt hiding inside, because we can’t discern it when we’re young. We carry it with us, and process it as we go. Sometimes we act it out, not even knowing where it came from, without reflecting on the fact, that it could be different.
In 1st century Palestine, children were on the very bottom of the social ladder, the lowest of the least. They basically had no rights, and were not considered, full persons. The most positive thing I guess you could say, was that they were an investment in the farm, another worker in the family business.
Which is why it’s surprising then that Jesus stops to bless the children, and make us all stop, and look them in the eye! He speaks sternly to his disciples, as Mark reports it, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”
So, it’s an interesting juxtaposition that this story follows immediately after the jarring confrontation about divorce. The sharp language of Jesus can be partly traced to his audience. It’s the Pharisees, who come, not to fall reverently at his feet and listen to the Rabbi, but they come to test Jesus, that is, to try and trick him with an impossible conundrum. The question of divorce was a hotly debated topic in 1st century Palestine, something like our issue of abortion. So, this is a kind of Trumpian confrontation, designed to show their power, and risk further chaos, more than clarify.
But Jesus has a refreshing take on the issue, actually. He says, the Mosaic law allowing men to divorce their wives, was written for those who are hard of heart, such as the Pharisees, who came to test him. But, says Jesus, where does our understanding of partnership and marriage come from? And he goes back to the very first chapter of Genesis, from the very beginning of the creation of humans he says, we find that two people who love each other in marriage, have become one flesh, a godly-made-bond so important for family that, as Jesus concludes, no one should separate them!
And to his disciples alone, Jesus says: A man who separates himself from his wife by divorce goes against the intentions of the ‘one flesh.’ When two partners come together in marriage, they become ‘one person,’ now. But more than that, Jesus adds perhaps the most shocking thing of all. And if “she,” separates from her husband by divorce, she also goes against the intentions of ‘one flesh.’
She, was not part of the Mosaic and Levitical codes! Women had no rights to divorce. It was unheard of! But Jesus, who began with the hard-heartedness of the Pharisees who want the option of divorce only for themselves, ends with this revolutionary equality of rights for female spouses.
So, how does this connect with Jesus blessing the little children? For one thing, at least, Jesus is still talking about the rights of the ‘least of these’ – for both women and children – Jesus came to liberate and include, the least of these, in the Jubilee year of release, in the inauguration of the kingdom and realm of God!
Look out patriarchy! You do not fit into the kingdom. You abide by rules of privilege and exclusion which are not able to release the joy of Jubilee for all!
And furthermore, with both stories together, we once again find the picture of family that Jesus advocates for, throughout the gospels. All those who believe in this kingdom message and are followers of Jesus will be his siblings, brothers and sisters with Jesus, more so even, than his blood relatives. He tells his disciples this same thing, just before his passion. Now I call you my friends – we’re siblings. And together, our parent is my Abba, says Jesus, my daddy, or Father, in heaven.
As God’s family, it’s not that we won’t have some dysfunctions. Certainly we will. But what holds us together as siblings is that we all refer to our heavenly Abba, our sovereign God, our common parent, that transcends our failings and frailties, who truly loves us and forgives us, and calls us God’s own.
This is the beautiful picture portrayed in our gospel, it seems to me. That Jesus, like our Abba-Father in heaven, took the little children in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. God’s family includes us all, as siblings with one another, and with Jesus. And our relationship in this family is what teaches us how to love one another – how to heal our wounds, and give us the opportunity to be a healthy functioning family.
This is the picture Mark’s gospel paints for us: Jesus takes us up in his arms – all of us – lays his hands on us, and blesses us!
God is blessing us, that we may be a blessing to others!