“SUFFER THE PARENTS TO BRING THEIR BABIES TO ME”

PREAMBLE

O.k., I’m going to be doing a little experiment for today’s reflection [relax, it’s not mandatory and I’ll do my best to ensure that you’re fully informed of the possible risks and benefits].  No risk – you don’t even have to tell whether you participate or not; benefits – some possibly.

It simply involves you answering (only for your own benefit, I don’t care how you answer) how you “imagine” the scene in today’s Gospel.

Paint a vista scene and run the script like a little movie in your head, with all the trimmings like you would any scene of people gathering outside. Pay special attention to the details of what you imagine to remember them, so you can answer three questions which are coming now – but stop and read the very short Gospel again with the goal of creating that imagined scene first.

Children were brought to Jesus
that he might lay his hands on them and pray.
The disciples rebuked them, but Jesus said,
“Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them;
for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
After he placed his hands on them, he went away.

Questions About What You Envisioned:

  1. How old were the children?
  2. How did the children interact with Jesus?
  3. Who was Jesus speaking to in today’s Gospel, as you imagined it playing out in your mind when you read it, and who was he speaking about when he said “them”?

Today’s Gospel is a good example of how bad translations of the original Scripture do the very thing that today’s Gospel message has Jesus warning us not to do: hinder others from coming to Him.

That’s exactly what happens when the meaning behind the words of Jesus in Scripture – always having significance, each and every one – are changed into words that have a different meaning than intended, thereby making it impossible for those hearing the “Word” to actually have the “wheat” seed planted of Jesus, the eternal Word we are to…

“… humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save your souls.” [James 1:21].

What people get instead is an imitation, a dud, the  darnel of disinformation and deceit, a counterfeit weed producing no bread of understanding – a plant that’s ultimately destined to be collected like garbage, bound, bundled and burned in the bowels of brimstone for daring to take the place of the implanted Word that saves our souls, so it’s definitely not something we we want to plant in people – darnel seeds.

Question to the Teachers and Shepherds: “How can people ‘humbly accept’ something if it isn’t presented to them?

How do we ‘correct’ the imprecision and/or bad translation that hinders a true understanding of the message from Jesus, and the teaching in that message for us? That is, how do we do that without doing a deep-dive into all the original Greek text, and the nuances of both the Greek language and the culture of Jesus’ day?

There is another way to get to the essence of that event: consider all three accounts of it together, which is something that greatly enhances any reflection on the meaning of the Gospel; however, it does involve more time and study.

The Gospels are truly “Christian” Gospels, and they work together to help us to really get to know Jesus and His Spirit. It is that Spirit that guides us into the nuances of all His teachings. As we draw closer to Jesus, then return to His Words, we gain even greater depth of insight into the wisdom of His words, all of them, and the importance that they are not – as Jesus emphasized several times – to be omitted or altered in any way to change the intended meaning.

So this is a great method, especially when the translations are lousy. If you don’t have time to do this kind of cross-comparative reflection yourself, be sure to use a more trustworthy source translation, that may be more cumbersome to read, but will be more accurate – an interlinear english-greek translation for example, or Young’s Literal Translation.

I made it easier for you to see how this method of reflection and study enhances our capacity for insight by putting together a chart with each of the Synoptic Gospel accounts of this incident, so we can more easily draw insights from the other Gospel to get a full and accurate picture and understanding of what exactly transpired in this reflection.  

Take a minute to compare the three accounts to see how they are largely the same, but some have additional information the others do not, which paints a fuller picture of what actually transpired:

To start with, two things must be noted with this translation from Matthew – it says ‘children’ when it should say ‘babies’ – like Luke.

We need to be clear about the age of the children to know that Jesus’ message was not meant for their ears – the ears of the babies – but the adults who brought them to Jesus, as well as the disciples, who had their own lesson to learn about sending away the mom’s and dad’s.

When He said let them come on to me, the assumption is that He was referring to children, but if the children are, in fact, babies, let them (the babies) come to me really meant, let their mom’s and dad’s come to me with them.  Jesus was clearly telling the disciplines who had just tried to prevent the mothers and fathers from bringing the babies to Jesus (most likely, i.e., Scripture just said that “…people were bringing,” but whether they were moms and dad’s they had custody of the babies and were adults nonetheless.

So the following are two very important points to note to get it right:

  1. They were not children he was speaking to, only about, they were not even ‘little children’, they were ‘infants and toddlers,’ as is clarified with the more accurate translation of the greek word used to designate that in Luke’s recounting of this event, where he uses the precise word for infants and toddler-age in Greek,  βρεφη,
  2. They were ‘brought’ to Jesus by others, presumably their parents or Guardians, which confirms their ‘baby’ and toddler status, it wasn’t children running up to, and jumping on, Jesus (is that what you pictured? That’s what all the artist seem to picture).

This rare one I found actually did get it right:

It is also important that we set the proper stage for this encounter that Jesus had with parents and guardians, to help to make some sense out of the offense His Apostles took with these moms and dads for bringing their infants to Jesus for a blessing. 

Such a blessing involved Jesus touching them by laying His hands upon them (with two of the three Gospels saying ‘praying,’ following the laying on of hands), as was customary for such blessings by Rabbis in synagogues at the time….so these people were clearly recognizing Jesus as a Holy Man, a Teacher (Rabbi).

The laying on of hands symbolized blessing (see Genesis 48:14Numbers 27:23). From the Jewish it passed into the Christian Church (Acts 6:5), and continues unto this day to be used on various solemn occasions. 

But there is more that needs clarifying about what’s going on here, if we are to understand Jesus’ teaching in this Gospel properly.

FIRST COMES LOVE, THEN COMES MARRIAGE, THEN COMES…

This incident happened immediately after Jesus blessed marriage – so it was a logical follow-up to his teaching on the sanctity of the family and indissolubility of marriage. 

Babies are suddenly being brought to be blessed by Jesus, one would suspect, as a result of the very favourable words Jesus just had to say about all those mom and dads with kids in the crowd just heard.

Those present who were “married with babies” would have felt more welcomed by those words they just heard; more daring to approach Jesus with their babies to get a blessing, trusting, no doubt, that if Jesus had just blessed marriage as a good thing, He would also bless the fruit of that holy state: babies!

And they were correct, but the disciples seemed confused (or perhaps a bit jealous of Jesus and their special status as His disciples, making Jesus indignant. 

Once we realise the proper context, that it was the married people hearing his message of openness and invitation for them and His confirmation of the blessedness of their married state and vocation raising babies (i.e., they didn’t have to become wandering, smelly celibates like his ragtag team of disciples; they could hear and accept His message and “follow” Him from the heart and hearth of their home…what wonderful news that must have been to those expecting only the heroic could participate in what Jesus was offering).

The Apostles may approached Jesus to send those parents away not yet understanding  that what Jesus was offering to everyone wasn’t a special vocation of being an insider, an “apostle” charged with a mission to carry-on the mission of the Master during His own 3-year ministry in the world, but life eternal, and that was being made available to anyone with an open heart, no matter how ordinary and common a life they may be living. 

No great talents or skills or heroic feats are required beyond accepting the Word into one’s heart and making one’s goal in life to at all times be like Jesus, living constantly under the transforming power of His Holy Spirit, spontaneously discerning and obeying the Will of the Father, being good and testifying to the truth, loving our neighbour and thereby proving our love for God by giving Him glory through our humble obedience to His Divine Will.

The disciples may not have realized that what Jesus was offering wasn’t something only for those who could paid the cost of traipsing around the countryside with Jesus at that time, and being tied-down with babies shut you out of that game completely.

So it is imperative that we don’t imagine a bunch of cute kids bouncing around, first annoying the Apostles, that then prompted them to ask Jesus if he’d put the chase to them!

For example, when it says, “..the disciples rebuked them,” in Matthew’s account, I suspect that most people picture those annoying kids and the Apostles scolding them and telling them to go elsewhere. That’s completely wrong.

The ‘rebuke’ wasn’t to the children (who were infants and toddlers, i.e., the technical meaning of the original Greek is essentially a newborn or young child still in ‘training,’ and still needing close supervision of adults).

The rebuke from the disciples was to the parents and guardians who ‘brought the infants’ to Jesus so He could ‘touch them’ [Mark] “lay His hands on them” [Luke]

That puts a slightly different light on the disciples’ “rebuke” doesn’t it? Pretty cruel to attempt to deny infants being brought by their guardians to Jesus for a blessing, so little wonder it says that Jesus was “indignant”.  

So here is the real question – have we (if this is the case) been wrong all these years to picture little children running around Jesus, and thinking that when he said: 

“Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them;
for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

more precisely, “…for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” He wasn’t referring to the babies getting blessed as the “these” to whom the Kingdom of heaven belongs, but to the trusting parents of those children that recognized where to bring their babies for blessings. Something to ponder.

DAILY PRAYER

“Jesus, we thank you for life and all the blessings you bestow on us daily. We thank you as well for all our family, especially our children, and we ask that you take them up into the protection of your Sacred Heart this day. Keep them safe from all harm, from all influence of evil spirits and people cooperating with evil spirits. Illuminate their minds to see the futility of life without You, and turn their hearts to desire your glory by pursing and doing what is good and true.” Amen.

 

One comment

  1. I am grateful you cleared up this lovely reading! It now makes much more sense! Thank you Kevin!

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