Nowhere is this more apparent than in how abused children grow up into damaged adults who become perpetrators themselves. Abuse--emotional, sexual, and physical--tends to have a generational character. The sins of the father are tragically visited upon the children, generation after generation.
I was reading Ched Myers's commentary on the Gospel of Mark Binding the Strong Man the other day and came across a startling analysis of his.
In Mark 9.33 to 10.31 there is a teaching sequence of Jesus's that centers a great deal upon children. When the disciples ask "Who is the greatest?" Jesus answers this way:
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”Later, Jesus gives dire warnings about causing "little ones" to stumble. And at the the end of the sequence we see the disciples trying to shoo children away from Jesus. Jesus responds:
He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
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. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.Why this focus on children? Why is welcoming a child an instance of welcoming Christ? Why must we receive the kingdom of God like a little child?
Americans have a hard time understanding these passages. We live in a child-centric culture. Kids are the focus of all our time, attention, and affection. Youth is prized. Age is a curse.
But in Jesus's day children were at the absolute bottom of the patriarchal power structure. Consequently, in setting a child in the midst of the disciples Jesus is pulling a marginal person and placing them at the center. We often miss this movement as children are already at the center of our world. But what Jesus was doing--making "little ones" the gateway to the kingdom--was pretty startling, shocking and revolutionary.
And maybe there is even more going on here. Think back to my opening comments about generational abuse. So much of the violence in the world is due to broken and violent power structures embedded within family systems. Damaged children end up damaging others when they grow up. And if that's true today it was even more so in Jesus's day.
And if that's the case, Myers argues, might Jesus's ethic of care for children be a protective intervention on his part? More, might that intervention--the care and protection of children--be an attempt to address the primary source of violence in our world, cutting it off at the root?
All of these teachings of Jesus--"welcome children," "do not cause a little one to stumble," and "recieve the kingdom like a child"--may be less about Precious Moments and more about addressing the generational darkness within families that produces so much of the violence in our world.