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 Jesus likes Children

Jesus threatened child abusers with a Mafia style execution - a millstone drowning. Children faced increasing danger of sexual abuse during the first century. This slave boy is on a goblet made in about 10 AD near Jerusalem, so perhaps Jesus knew him. He is looking at two groups of men performing homosexual acts and may have to "service" them. Jesus was incensed at the suffering of such children. .

Children are so special to Jesus because they love without mistrust or motive. But very quickly they learn that they need to earn human love, and even God's love. When Jewish children become adults at their Bar Mitzvah they take on "The Yoke of the Commandments". Jesus wanted us to bear only "The Yoke of the Kingdom", consisting of one commandment: Love God.

Reading:  Matt.18.1-6; Matt.11.25-30; Mark 12:28-33 

It is sad that nowadays, it sounds suspicious to say that someone likes children
- pedophilia makes headlines everywhere, even, unfortunately, in the church
- and when it does occur in the church it is particularly devastating
- the church has traditionally had the role of helping to bring up children
- our society has grown used to the idea that the church teaches right and wrong
- so much so, that secular education doesn't really include that kind of teaching


Paedophilia in the church is particularly horrific because Jesus was so against it
- perhaps you haven't noticed Jesus' dramatic teaching against paedophilia
- you may not have noticed because Jesus uses slightly euphemistic language
- we also use euphemisms - peadophilia means literally "loving children"
- and the motives and results of paedophilia are anything but loving


In Jesus' day the euphemism for sexual assault was to make someone stumble
- we find this language in Jewish Greek literature in the centuries before Jesus
  [Sirach 9.5; Psalms of Solomon 32.15; cf “eye” & “hand” in Matt.5.28-30]
- so now we understand Jesus' warning against making any little ones stumble
- he was talking in terms that everyone understood - don't sexually assault them

Unfortunately, Jesus' hearers were as familiar with child abuse as we are
- Palestine just before Jesus' day was a wonderful moral and peaceful land
- it wasn't the birth of Jesus that ruined everything. It was the arrival of Romans
- Romans brought a new kind of morality with them, where sex was just a game
- they also brought slavery of a kind which wasn't known in Palestine before
- Jews had slaves, but the law made them treat them almost as family members
- Roman slaves were merely property, for use or misuse as their master pleased 


As a result, Jesus and his contemporaries saw lots of suffering from sexual abuse
- and this wasn't just among adults. Very sadly, children were regularly abused

Here is a picture of a boy Jesus may have played with. I mean that quite literally.
- it comes from a silver goblet which was made near Bethlehem in about 10 AD
- so the model for this artist was born about the same time as Jesus
- he is dressed in the rags of a slave, but perhaps the model wasn't a slave
- it is a cute picture, but you can't see here what he is looking so worried about


It comes from the Warren Cup, which is on exhibit in the British Museum
- other museums had refused to buy it and the USA even refused it entry 
- the USA customs considered it too pornographic to allow into the country
- but by the 1960's when the British Museum bought it, attitudes had changed
- it shows two graphic scenes of adult male homosexual acts in progress
- and in the middle, is this door and the little boy worried by what he sees
- he is worried, probably, because he has been sent to service one of the men


Multitudes of children like him were victimised throughout the Roman empire
- Roman morality didn't think that this was wrong, especially for slaves
- but Jesus thought this was wrong, and was incensed by it

Jesus shows more anger about this crime of child abuse than any other sin
- he makes a violent threat against anyone who harms a child in this way
- he said their fate will be worse than a Mafia-style revenge killing
- the Mafia set people's feet in concrete and threw them in the Hudson river
- Jesus said "put a millstone round their neck and throw them in the sea"
- he didn't say this was their actual punishment. He said it would be worse.

I don't think we ever see Jesus more angry about anything else
- children were very special to him, and he hated anyone to harm them

Why were children so special to Jesus? Why more than others?
- of course children are special to all of us, because they are young
- they need our protection, so their enemies are our enemies
- they are trusting, which makes adult abusers so despicable
- they are innocent, and we want to preserve that transient treasure
- and sexual abuse in particular can ruin their lives irreparably


For Jesus there was an extra reason why children were special
- because he said that children were the perfect kinds of disciples
- he wanted all his disciples to be like children or  become like them
- he wasn't saying: children are OK and they can join like adults can
- he was saying: adults are not OK until they become like children
- in other words: children are already qualified to join the Kingdom
- but adults have to become qualified by becoming like children

What's so special about children?  I think it is Love and Trust
- you don't have to teach a child to love their parents. They do.
- and you don't have to persuade them to trust you. They do.
- though those precious things are soon lost, especially when they are abused


Jesus was keen to teach that we don't have to earn God's love
- we should love him because he loves us, even if we do wrong
- of course, like any parent, he demands that we repent of our wrong

- but God doesn't stop loving the prodigal while waiting for repentance
- an adult thinks we have to earn God's love by doing good things
- of course God is pleased by our good lives, like any parent is
- but this isn't what makes him love us. You can't kill God's love
- the fact that I've had to explain this to you proves you are adults
- children don't have to be told to love, and don’t have to be told they are loved

Unless they experience abuse, children will naturally trust adults
- unfortunately we kill that trust prematurely, warning them about strangers
- this is necessary but sad, because the vast majority of strangers are kind
- and, actually, the majority of abusers come from among relatives and friends
- similarly, if we tell children that God loves them, they will trust him
- though this too will die quickly when they hear some adults talk about God

Jesus was quite serious about us being like children instead of growing up
- a 13-yr old Jewish boy becomes a Bar Mitzvah  (“Son of the Commandments)
- nowadays many Jewish girls have a similar Bat Mitzvah ceremony
- till then, they are encouraged to obey the commandments, but it isn’t obligatory
- after that ceremony they are expected to obey all 613 commandments
- yep, not just 10. The rabbis counted all the Bible commands and came to 613
- and that’s just the commandments in the Bible. Lots more were added later

They call this a decision to take on “the Yoke of the Commandments”

- actually, Jews take on two yokes. The first is “The Yoke of the Kingdom”
- this consists of only one commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength.”
- we recognize that commandment as Jesus’ first and greatest commandment
- all Jew recognize it from the Shema – their twice daily readings and prayers

The Shema starts with Deut.6.4-9. The first word is “Hear” (Hebrew  “Shema”)

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 

- this first bit is the Yoke of the Kingdom, because you declare God as your King

- you declare that you will obey God and love him and serve him completely

- the whole of the rest refers to obeying ALL the commandments.

6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.

- then they recite Deut.11.13-21 and then Numbers 15.27-41, which ends:

40 remember to obey all my commands and be consecrated to your God.


A Jew promises to keep all 613 commandments at his Bar Mitzar  

- and then they repeat that promise when they say the Shema twice a day

- because when they say the Shema they repeat the Yoke of the Commandments

- they agree to keep ALL the commandments.

But when Jesus was asked about the commandments he cut them down to two
1) the one called the Yoke of the Kingdom (ie “Love the Lord your God…”)
2) an additional one: Love your neighbour as yourself (from Lev.19.18)

Jesus didn’t say we should ignore the rest but didn’t promote them either
- it is almost as if the rest of the commands in the Old Testament didn’t matter
- as if, as far as God is concerned, we can remain children forever
- we can put off our Bar Mitzvah for ever and remain children of God

I think Augustine put his finger on it. He said: “Love God and do as you like”
- he didn’t mean a Christian can do whatever he wants, without any restraints
- he meant that if we love God, we are transformed into those who want his will
- so that what we want is also what God wants. So we can do as we like
- because if we do as we like, as we want, we will be doing what God wants.

But the key difference between children and adults is their motive for obeying
- we obey God because we have decided to follow him or we want to please him
- a young child obeys an adult they trust (unless it is hard or there’s something more interesting to do – in which case they will need more incentive to obey).
- the point is that a young child doesn’t normally do things in order to please you
- later  they do – when they realize that love has to be earned by pleasing people
- but to start with children assume that they will be loved unconditionally.


Oh, how short that time is! How quickly they learn our love isn’t unconditional
- of course we say that it is, and perhaps we think it is, but we act differently
- when children do wrong, they get not just our displeasure but our coldness
- when we tell them off, we turn off our love so that it won’t hurt us too much
- We don’t say with anguish: “It is REALLY important that you don’t do that because it will hurt you and hurt others, and I want to protect you from harm”
- instead we say with anger: “You must NEVER do that again. It is bad.”
- and they quickly learn that if they do wrong, our love seems to disappear


Of course, it has to be like that. They learn much more quickly if we show anger
- and we can’t always explain why things are wrong (though we should try)
- and we often need to turn off our love in order to preserve ourselves
- anyway, they need to learn that doing bad mean that people won’t love them
- the upshot of all this is that we all quickly learn that love must be earned

After learning this, our relationship with God changes completely
- God is also incapable, in our minds, of truly unconditional love
- when he is angry at our sinfulness, then his love for us has grown less
- that’s what we think, because that’s what happens with humans
- we forget that God describes himself as a father who still loves his prodigal
- we forget that just before the flood, God is described as grieving (Gen.6.6)


God’s wrath against sin doesn’t end his love towards us. It enflames his love
- his love burns so bright that he gives us more than any parent can give
- he gives us the life of his perfect son to save the lives of his rebellious children
- God’s love doesn’t have to be earned – it just has to be received and acted on
- we don’t need to do good to earn God’s love and earn our salvation
- we only need to repent of our evil ways and accept the free gift of our salvation

A young child understands the concept of a free gift offered out of love
- when you offer a young child a sweet they smile at you and take it
- when the child is a little older, they pause first to make sure there’s no catch
- when you offer an adult a free sweet they walk away, and phone the police
- the offer is the same, but our reaction is changed by our experience of life


That is what makes child abuse so utterly terrible
- even if there is no violence involved, the child’s experience of life is marred
- we now know that they are likely to suffer consequences for their whole life
- that’s why Jesus was so angry about anyone who abused a child


But that same anger was directed against the whole of the world system
- we are all gradually corrupted into mistrust and a broken image of what love is
- we think that love has to be earned by doing good to others and even to God
- we see God through the image of other humans, with all their flaws
- so we think that God will only love us if we obey lots of commandments.

Jesus says: Become like a child again, and see God through childlike eyes
- my yoke is light, not heavy. You only need to put on the Yoke of the Kingdom
- just acknowledge God and love him – and consequently love your neighbour
- the rest will follow, so don’t worry about it.
- Just love God, because he loves you. 


(C) Dr David Instone-Brewer 2012

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David Instone-Brewer