Today we’re looking at the “Jesus and the Little Children” story. Famous, to say the least. As you might expect, though, it’s not about children. It’s a parable in life. Jesus has been teaching about the kingdom of God: who gets in and who doesn’t. He’s been talking about how to be close to God, and who is far away from God. “The rich and powerful” often symbolize godlessness; “The weak and poor” often symbolize godliness. Here come the children, and it’s the perfect parable. A child, better than anyone, represents the weak, the poor, and the humble. A child is not caught up in self-righteousness. Knowing Luke’s writing style and Jesus’ teaching style, this story is a living illustration of the parable Jesus just finished telling (the Pharisee and the tax collector), is communicating the truths of self-humility in contrast to self-righteousness, and that our best course of action is to recognize our own sinfulness and come to God not expecting that our own works achieve anything of worth for ourselves.
In Jesus’ teaching, children often symbolize the humble, and therefore, the godly, just as Luke uses the poor to symbolize the same status. It’s not that they automatically are, but they are used that way archetypically. Children represent the least and the little. In this story, then, babies would be the extreme example in symbol.
They wanted Jesus to place his hands on the children. The people, of course, are looking for some kind of ritualistic security or advantage (all symbolizing legalism and religion) for their young ones. Not only was it a society of ill health, where many children died young of disease or injury, but it was also a dangerous world of armies and robbers, but there was also a lot of religious fear that one might not attain eternity if one’s works had not been up to par. Where one has to earn one’s way, there is always the fear of inadequacy. Seeking a blessing is trying to ward off all these dangers.
But those pesky disciples rebuked them. Symbolically they represent the contingent who feels that these children are not worthy enough—not valuable enough—to approach the Lord. The symbolism is in that there was too much spiritual poverty here to be worth attention.
“But Jesus called the children to him.” Jesus is symbolically recognizing “those who humble themselves,” those who discern their own sinfulness and come to God not expecting that their works achieve anything of worth for themselves.
Then Jesus says, “‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Here’s the point. Religion doesn’t get you to God; works doesn’t get you to God. Being good doesn’t get you to God. Humility, self-emptying, “poor in spirit”: thirsty, hungry, seeking people. The point is beyond what this seems to be saying on the surface, but is the culmination of the last number of stories and parables: We are saved not because we are righteous or good or worthy or , but because God imputes righteousness on us: by grace through faith, it is a gift of God.