The Unlikely Models of the Kingdom
Scriptures: Mark 10:13-16, Mark 9:33-37
This year an estimated 75 million people will play Fantasy
Football. It was even mentioned in the recent Presidential debate. In Fantasy Football people sign up for a league and then draft players to be on their team: usually at least a quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, kicker and a team defense. The players can be drafted from any team to form your own personal team. Then on game day the statistics of each individual player, like their number of yards gained or points scored, are run through some calculations to give a total number of points for your team, and if your team has the highest score, you win.
Obviously you don't want to draft any lousy players on your team,
because they probably won't have very good statistics on game day. But sometimes a mediocre player will have a great game. That player is called a "sleeper," and being able to pick a sleeper is often the key to winning at Fantasy Football.
This is actually relevant to our scripture readings for
today, because in these scripture readings Jesus' disciples play a kind of Fantasy Football. In Mark, chapter 9, the disciples argue with one another about which of them is the greatest, meaning which of them should be Jesus' top draft pick. Jesus says to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." To illustrate Jesus shows them a child and says, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me." In effect Jesus says, "This child is a sleeper. Draft this child on to your team, and you get me too."
Unfortunately, the disciples don't get it. One chapter
later, when people start bringing children to Jesus, the disciples tell them to go away. But Jesus says, "Let the children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs." For Jesus children are the first draft picks for his team.
I think people sometimes read this scripture with an overly
romanticized view of children. I once read a story about a young boy named Robert. Robert was a known terrorist in the family doctor's office. He never came in without pitching a fit and defying the doctor. One day the doctor referred Robert to a dentist for some work on his teeth. Having been warned about Robert, the dentist was ready for him.
"Get in the chair, young man," the dentist said. "No," said Robert, crossing his arms. "Son," the dentist said calmly, "I need you to climb in that
Robert eyed the dentist for a moment and then said, "If you
make me get in that chair, I will take off all my clothes."
The dentist shrugged and said, "Take 'em off." So Robert
removed his shirt, undershirt, shoes, and socks, and looked up defiantly. "All right," said the dentist, "now get in the chair."
"Maybe you didn't hear me," Robert whined. "I said if you
make me get in that chair, I will take off all my clothes."
"Take 'em off," said the dentist. So Robert took off his
pants and shorts, and stood there totally naked in front of the dentist and his assistant.
"Now," said the dentist, "get in the chair." Robert got in
the chair and sat there while the dentist worked on his teeth. When he finished Robert said to the dentist, "Give me my clothes."
"I'm sorry," said the dentist, wiping his hands. "Tell your mother
we're going to keep your clothes tonight. She can pick them up tomorrow." And with that he ushered Robert out into the crowded waiting room, where his mother took one look at him, and without saying a word took his hand, and led him into the hall, down the public elevator, and through an outdoor parking lot to their car. And Robert never threatened to take his clothes off again.
Jesus says, "To such as these belongs the Kingdom of God."
It sort of gives you pause. I have heard it suggested that children are especially fit for the Kingdom of God because they are innocent, trusting, and guileless. But anyone who thinks that children are always innocent, trusting, and guileless has not been around any lately.
The disciples were more realistic. They preferred that
parents get a babysitter. It is not that they disliked children. They may have had children of their own. But they figured that Jesus was too busy for children. He had a Kingdom to build. He had a world to save. He needed to be out campaigning. He didn't have time to wipe runny noses.
Ah, but what if the Kingdom of God is not something we
build? What if the Kingdom of God is not something for which we campaign? What if it is something we receive as a gift?
Children are perfect recipients of the Kingdom of God, not
because they are innocent or trusting or guileless but because they cannot even pretend to build it or buy it or earn it. They have no resources by which to obtain the Kingdom of God for themselves, they can only receive it as a gift, which according to Jesus is the only way any of us can receive it.
By the way, this story is one of the reasons we baptize
infants and children in our church. I know that some Christian churches do not baptize infants and young children. They feel you must be old enough to know what you are doing and make your own conscious decision before you are baptized. I understand that. But in this scripture passage Jesus welcomes young children into the Kingdom of God. Luke says they even babies to Jesus. I know the story does not mention baptism, but Jesus welcomes the children, lays hands on them, and says that they belong to the Kingdom of God. Isn't that the whole point of baptism-to be welcomed by Jesus into the Kingdom of God?
The point Jesus makes in this scripture is that even adults
must become like children to enter the Kingdom of God. When adults are baptized in our church they have not one single asset, not one single qualification, not one single advantage over a child that is carried up here by parents. Both are totally dependent on God's grace. When adults come up here to be baptized, it's because God carried them up here just much as a parent carrying a child.
But if we must receive the Kingdom of God as a child, if we
enter God's Kingdom solely by God's grace, then we must also show that same grace to others. That is why Jesus says, "Whoever welcomes a child in my name welcomes me." If we get into Jesus' Kingdom by grace, then we must welcome all the other children whom Jesus brings into his kingdom by grace, including the children like Robert. including the adults who may drive us crazy.
Brant Copeland, a pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of
Tallahassee, FL, tells of a man in his church named Wayne. He writes,
Wayne is in his late thirties. He had a psychological disorder chronic enough to keep him from holding a job for very long, but not severe enough to qualify him for disability payments. He lives in a homeless shelter down the street.. He comes to every worship service, every meal, every event. When you ask him what the church has done for him, he'll tell you, "These people saved my life." When I ask how, he says, "When I go outside this church, I'm a homeless guy, a bum, a transient. When I'm with these people I'm just another person." (Brant S. Copeland, "Scripture as Metaphor and Lens," in The Register of the Company of Pastors (Summer 1998): 5.)
Actually more than that, Jesus says. Wayne is a first draft pick in the Kingdom of God.