While I don’t have children, I take seriously the way that Jesus related with children in the gospels. Jesus, who also didn’t have children, was a model to his followers about how to lead children to a life of discipleship.
Jesus welcomed children
Most of us know the story found in Mark 10 in which Jesus rebuked the disciples for trying to shield Jesus from the squirmy, noisy, distracting kids. Jesus instead gave the children his full attention, hugging them, touching them, and blessing them. In today’s “safe environment” atmosphere, we have to be prudent about touching children, but we shouldn’t ever make children feel unwelcome or ignored.
Jesus healed children
The grace of Jesus’s healing presence was no less available to children than it was to adults. The gospels tell us of the times Jesus cured children of diseases and even raised Jairus’s daughter from the dead. While none of us will likely be raising anyone from the dead, every child who is old enough to remember loss has a story that needs healing. When families bring their children to us, we want to first of all be ministers of grace and healing.
Jesus held up children as examples
As adults, we often think that our job is to teach children what they need to know in order to be baptized or celebrate first Communion or go to confession. If we are going to follow Jesus’s teaching to his disciples, we would instead first ask what it is that the children can teach us about faith. He said to his disciples: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:2–4).
Jesus saw himself in children
In that same passage, Jesus told his disciples, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Mt 18:2-5). I think those of us who minister with children would do well to tape this passage someplace where we’ll see it every day. It makes me think of my nephew, who is a three-year-old bundle of mystery. On his good days (which are most days), it is easy to see the presence of Christ in him. When he is tired or hungry or frustrated, “Christ-like” is not the first adjective that comes to mind. Even so, Jesus’s message is clear. When we encounter a child, we encounter Christ.
Jesus recognized children as disciples
In John’s story of the feeding of the 5,000, the adult disciples fall short. Their solution to meeting the needs of the crowd that had been following Jesus all day was to send them home. While the adults saw only scarcity, a young boy stepped up, trusting the gracious generosity of Jesus’s spirit. He offered what was probably his family’s only food for the day — five loaves and two fish. To the adult disciples, this was next to nothing. To the boy and to Jesus, it was everything. Our ministry with children, above all, is to recognize and foster their gifts of discipleship. The goal is not baptism or confirmation or first Communion. The goal is not for them to learn updated versions of the Baltimore catechism. The goal is missionary discipleship. Children are not only capable of being disciples, they are often better at it than we are as adults.
What are your thoughts?
I wonder if we wonder about these things enough. In our formation programs for children, are we following Jesus’s example in the way we encounter children? Are our children becoming missionary disciples and evangelists? If in your parish they are, what are you doing that’s working well? And if they are not, what needs to change so that our children become heralds of the good news?
Photo by Larm Rmah | Unsplash
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