People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. - Luke 18:15a (NRSV)
It’s probably blasphemy, but the story of Jesus blessing the children has long been among my least favorite passages of scripture. Perhaps it goes back to my own childhood and the Sunday school pictures of squeaky-clean Jesus surrounded by squeaky-clean and well-behaved children. As a kid who liked to get sweaty and dirty and who (surprise, surprise) tended toward the rambunctious, I seldom could find myself in Jesus’ inner circle.
Even as a (somewhat) less rambunctious adult, I’ve had trouble with the story and its predominant interpretation as only an example of the childlike trust one must have to be in a true relationship with God. There are moments I have such trust, but more often, I am akin to Job or the ancient prophets, questioning where God is and what the Almighty is or is not doing.
But maybe the real heresy is to limit Jesus’ blessing of “even infants” to those interpretations. When read in its context of life under imperial Rome, the story was a direct challenge to the political and economic hierarchy of Jesus’ time, a pecking order that stretched from Rome to the farthest outposts of the empire. Emperors, tetrarchs, governors, landowners, and generals were at the top. Women, enslaved peoples, and children were at the bottom, with babies at the end of the line.
Yet Jesus not only blessed infants. He proclaimed that babies—the epitome of helplessness and dependency, everything the empire disdained—were first in line for God’s true kingdom. Far from being a sweet little account of squeaky-clean children, the story turned the world upside down.
It still does.
Open us, O Lord, to the power of this story about your true power.