People were taking the children to Jesus that he might bless them. In Jesus’ day it was apparently a common practice, but it is easy to miss the significance of this story. Hebrew fathers had been blessing their children throughout the whole Old Testament. Hebrew parents had been bringing their children to the synagogue way before Jesus’ time for a ritual of blessing. The Talmud contains one of these blessings: That they might be “famous in the Law, faithful in marriage, and abundant in good works.” It is a prayer that is not so different than what we might wish for our own children, that they might work hard and accomplish a lot.
Remarkably it appears that Jesus changed the ritual. You see the the elders of the synagogue, the scribes and the pharisees, while they participated in these rituals, they did not touch the children. In fact they made it a point never to touch anyone, because in doing so, they would have risked becoming unclean. The law had became so self-focused, it physically disconnected them from the community. Jesus changed it all. By taking the little children in his arms, he was showing that faith happened in connection, not in isolation. Jesus was always about connection, most often with the very people that no one wanted to touch! Jesus welcomed everyone.
I think that while we understand this all inclusive grace filled community that Jesus is talking about, we too often approach life in a way that looks a lot more like personal works righteousness! We believe that God rewards hard work with success; that the more we accomplish the more God will reward us. We talk about teamwork but right under the surface is some thing that is much more selfish. I fear this self-focused approach to life and faith creates the same misguidance that the elders had in Jesus’ day. We see faith as something that is so focused on me alone, that others really do not matter. Faith is not really about my personal relationship with Jesus. Faith is always about us in community!
One of the key ingredients of the Faith 5 approach that is central to both the Wednesday evening service and the soon to begin Sunday morning GIFT worship is the 5th step and concluding step, where around a table, the participants bless each other. They make the sign of the cross on their neighbors forehead and say: “Jesus loves you, and so do I.” I am guess that might be as uncomfortable as the “sharing of the peace,” was when we introduced it into worship 40 years ago, but it is a physical reminder of our connection with one another, but in the simple touch and short phrase, we show our connection.