The story we have just had as our gospel reading (Mark 10:13-16) could be easily trivialised. It’s not just about being childlike. It’s about the dignity and worth of children. That is not an unfamiliar message in our day and age, but it would have been in Jesus’ time. In a book written about Roman society of the first century, (Carolyn Osiek and David Balch, Families in the New testament World) we read:
When a child was born, two decisions were made. A first ‘medical’ decision concerned whether it was perfect; if not they cut the umbilical cord short and let it haemorrhage to death. Second came the father’s decision, not the mother’s, whether to raise the child. Pagan writers were surprised and even offended that Jews raise all their children…from Jews, Christians took over the value that infanticide was murder, and in 374 CE the Christian emperor Valentinian made killing an infant a capital crime. Karl Marx wrote: We can forgive Christians much for they taught us to love children”.
We could compare Rome with other pre-industrialised societies in which half the children did not live to see their fifth birthday. In a wonderful Australian book called Parenting for a Peaceful World, Robin Grille actually demonstrates from history that
- the decreasing number of world-wide conflicts,
- the increasing number of peacekeeping forces and
- the decreasing percentage of global economic output that is used in military expenditure
are the predictable result of the continuing evolution of childrearing practices. Robin grille also wrote Heart to Heart parenting which I can also highly recommend.
Just look at some of the things we have wished for Flynn today or that we will wish for as the service that Bill has prepared proceeds: we speak about his unique spiritual development, asking that
- he should respond with love rather than with fear,
- with discovery rather than a limiting belief system.
And the grandparents will pray for
- clarity of vision for him.
I don’t think we can have any idea of the radicalness of Jesus’ action in today’s passage, where Jesus was so angry with the disciples for trying to send the children away He took them up in his arms and blessed them. His acceptance of little children is unconditional and universal. It isn’t just the ones that are baptised, or the ones that are circumcised. They are not born in sin, but into the embracing arms of a loving God. Baptism doesn’t make God accept them. It acknowledges that God already has!
In the chapter before in Mark’s gospel
he took a little child whom he set among them and embraced him.
Men just didn’t do that in Jesus’ day.
I want to come back to the present and to Flynn’s life. Our liturgy says that we’ve welcomed him into the Christian family. Many people are glad to commit their children to be members of the Christian family, but they look at the institutional church and feel that that is a very different matter from looking at the way Jesus wanted people to live. So, whether or not he is a churchgoer, what might the family tell Flynn about Jesus if they try to explain sometime why he was baptised? There’s another recent book titled “The World According to Jesus, by an Australian woman, Lorraine Parkinson. Her main thesis is that Jesus was concerned with non-violent resistance to evil. He didn’t talk much about sin and salvation, even heaven and hell. He talked about loving one’s enemies, about non-violent resistance to evil.
There can have been no greater evil than the slaughter of six million Jews by the Nazi regime last century. My bookclub recently read a book called The Streetsweeper, by Elliott Pearlman. In some places I found it almost too harrowing to continue reading.
Parkinson suggests that even Hitler could be beaten when the vision of Jesus was actually put into practice. In occupied Denmark during WWII the Nazis ordered that all Jews should wear a yellow armband with a Star of David on it (so they could be recognised and taken away to be murdered). King Christian X of Denmark (the current Crown prince Frederick’s great grandfather), responded to the Nazis by attending a synagogue wearing the yellow armband. The Danish church affirmed his stand and almost the entire population of Copenhagen took to wearing the armbands. The effectiveness of this non-violent resistance to tyranny meant the Nazis had to rescind the order. We can only wonder what effect there might have been on Nazi aspirations had whole populations in other countries resisted Hitler in similar ways, and stood in solidarity with Europe’s Jews. Parkinson claims that Jesus knew he had the key to disarming evil. Nothing, she says, demoralises those who use violence more than a lack of submission combined with a lack of violent resistance. It isn’t pacifism or being a doormat, it is active resistance, but non-violently.
One other example of this happened in India. By the 1920s Gandhi had become more and more despairing about the exploitation of Indians under British rule. In 1930 he led a campaign of civil disobedience in which hundreds of thousands of ordinary people refused to pay tax imposed on salt, an essential part of their diet. In the same year Sarojini Naidu led 2500 people in a peaceful march on the Dharasana salt works. There they were viciously beaten with wooden rods by hundreds of British led police. Many protesters were killed but they did not retaliate against their tormentors with violence. After that, British leaders acknowledged Gandhi as a force they could neither suppress nor ignore, and India’s independence was finally granted in 1947. Gandhi had been profoundly influenced by Jesus’ sermon on the mount. Here is what Gandhi wrote:
The example of Jesus’ suffering is a factor in the composition of my undying faith in non-violence. The lives of all have, in some greater or lesser degree, been changed by his presence, his actions and the words spoken by his divine voice…I believe that he belongs not solely to Christianity but to the entire world, to all races and people.(Parkinson p200ff)
Flynn, belonging to Jesus’ worldwide family is to belong to a family where children are valued for the wonderful gifts that they are to us, indeed for the image of God which they bring to us, but also because the leader of the family gave us a hugely valuable tool for making the world a better place: it is called non-violent resistance to evil.
I leave those ideas with you for when Flynn asks about what happened here today.
Sue Emeleus, 9th June,2013.