Psalm 131, Matthew 18:1–9, Matthew 19:13–15 (read online ⧉)
As adults, many of us look at the carefree nature of many kids and wish we had that now (especially if it was taken from us). Our general society has increasingly put barriers of protection around children, while at the same time put more burdens on them. It’s rather strange when you think about it. Then the prioritization of those burdens can also be unhealthy. Teenagers are limited to a certain number of hours (and a certain number of days per week) to work and earn a wage. On the other hand, if a teenager is playing a sport, they can spend as much (and often more) time supporting a sport than earning a wage. By and large, most of those children will not play sports professionally or even collegiately, yet there is a preference for certain play versus work. This is not to say sports dedication is necessarily bad, just that there seems to be a level of hypocrisy.
Part of that is our understanding of children and childhood. We can see some of this very tension within the Scriptures. Depending on how one defines weened, a weened child was anywhere from 2 to 4 years old. However, as the child aged, we start to see an odd tension. Around the age of 13, a male went through the Bar Mitzvah and females the Bat Mitzvah. We see an allusion to this in Luke 2:41–52 (though Jesus was 12). At that point, a child became responsible in regards to the Law and theoretically had attained majority status. Yet, “men” were not counted in the Old Testament until they were 20. As Judaism (and the Law, and Israelite custom) are the ancestor of Christianity, these ages are important to consider when we look at the Scriptures when children are involved, as these are the background of the writers of both New and Old Testaments.
From a Greek perspective, a child is anyone prior to puberty (or that what the general use of the word). While the Greek was the language used to write Matthew, Jewish tradition and thinking would still deeply affect the intent of and influence the writer.
This is a very long way of saying, no one knows how old the child in question was, but likely it was up to 5 or 6. In other words, weened but not “there” yet insofar as being a teenager.
When Jesus presents the child as a perspective example, it is likely that the perspective (if not the words) of Psalm 131 were in play, and would certainly fit a pre-adolescent person. The child, as defined by Psalm 131, does “…not get involved with things too great or too wondrous…” What could that mean? It could mean many things. However, if we look at (for example) the English language, some counts put its vocabulary at over 1 million words, but when the King James Bible was written the estimate was 20-40 thousand. The reason this is brought up is that our language, just in words, is complicated, and only growing more so. We add words in an attempt to provide nuance. Not a particular surprise as written language does not succinctly communicate emotion, background, and overtone well.
In other words, we are making our language seemingly “great and wondrous”, and really making a mess of it. The Great Commandments (summarized: love God; love others) is simple. We make it so complicated.
1) Do you think complicated thinking is why Jesus presented a child as an example? Do you think it might be another reason?
3) What do you think of the 2 versions of adult presented above? Can you think of similar examples in our society? Why do you think these differences in “adult” are trying to achieve?