Written by Dr. Sarah Shea (Assistant Professor of Hong Kong Baptist Theological Seminary, Vice President of Asia Academy of Practical Theology)
No one can choose their mother; we are accustomed to calling children of wealthy families lucky and those born amidst poverty, war, disasters, or disability unlucky. Is this interpretation of children precise and comprehensive? We suggest the contrary, that children are the called ones.
Based on the Scripture, children are not arbitrarily manipulated by destiny, instead, they are the actors endowed with different missions in families and communities (Bunge 2001). In the Bible, the vocations of children can be varied, spanning from respecting their parents, loving the Lord, studying and practising the Word, and even teaching adults faith. Due to the limitation of space, I will only discuss one biblical view of children.
Jesus once said to his disciples, ‘Whosoever shall receive one of such little children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever receiveth me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.’ (Mark 9:37, American Standard Version). What did Jesus mean? How can receiving Jesus, Lord of all creation, be equivalent to receiving a little child? Scholars have put forward several interpretations, here I introduce an interpretation that relates to children’s vocation.
Lane (1974) believes that the key to resolve this problem is the meaning of the word ‘receive’. He clarifies that it was not about philanthropy, as the word referred to a particular welcome comes from the Lord’s authorisation and delegation. Lane derives such meaning by making reference to Mark 6:11. Contexts of the two verses are similar. They both include disciples instructed by the Lord on His order of welcome, but differ in the role of disciples. In the former, the disciples are the ones being welcomed, while the latter’s recipient is a little child, welcomed by the disciples. Lane infers that the ground of receiving hospitality in both verses are the same, as the recipients act as Jesus’ representatives – welcoming them is equivalent to welcoming Jesus who sent them. On the contrary, those who do not welcome them will endure severe consequences and even eternal punishment (Matthew 18:6 and 25:45-46), as their inaction is equal to not welcoming Jesus and the Father who sent Him.
Taking Lane’s view, a question arises, what did the Lord appoint ‘one of such little children’ to do on His behalf? I recommend Barth’s theological interpretation in Church Dogmatics where he thoroughly explains the poor, whom the Lord calls and appoints are the benefactors prepared for His people, so that we will return to the gospel by welcoming the poor among us.
The Bible tells us that the Lord sends children to this earth to be His representatives so that His people will receive His grace. Then, the question is: have churches followed the Lord’s command in welcoming children just like the disciples met, welcomed and recognised the resurrected Lord on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24)?
Bunge, M. (2001). The Child in Christian Thought.
Lane, W. (1974). The Gospel According to Mark.