Friday, February 17, 2012

Children and Free Will

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)

This is another text of scripture that will be explored in the retreat I’ll be leading tomorrow. Again, it’s a familiar story, and I’m doing my usual thing of attempting to shed my preconceived ideas and conclusions about it in order to hear something new.

This is another one of those rather cryptic accounts of Jesus speaking of the kingdom of God, which he mostly did through parables and comparisons (hadn’t he ever heard of systematic theology? What’s this story business?). The people wanted their children blessed by this new and engaging rabbi, and so they brought them, and Jesus took the opportunity to drop some more hints about God’s kingdom

I notice that the children didn’t just take it upon themselves to connect with Jesus. Instead, they were guided to him, escorted to him. They didn’t simply make the right decision for themselves; someone else took the initiative on their behalf, and then the kids participated in the process.

When it comes to God’s kingdom, maybe we give this whole free will thing too much weight. After all, our wills aren’t really all that free. They’re formed and framed by all kinds of outward forces throughout our lives. Our wills are not pure, objective mechanisms. So, if receiving the kingdom is like what was happening for those children, then maybe it’s not so much about getting everything right and making the correct choices, but more about responding to God’s initiative on our behalf, to summon us, guide us, escort us to the threshold of his kingdom. We won’t be forced in, but we are led nonetheless.

Maybe some of the kids shied away from Jesus, or put up a fuss like children sometimes do (think of the various reactions that children have to department store Santas). But they all got blessed, just the same—the obedient ones, the responsive ones, the fussy ones, the rebellious ones, the well-scrubbed ones, the stinky ones. All of them.

I wonder whatever happened to those kids. What did their lives look like 20 or thirty years down the road? When Jesus touches and blesses you, what kind of person do you become? What does that do to your so-called free will?

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