Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Foolishness of Childhood

I have been reading a lot about the legal status of children in Roman times, and to be honest it was pretty awful, no actually it was riddled with abuse, abandonment and the harsh reality that without the approval of the pater familias, the child was about as valuable as the dirt in the gutter. So what happens when we read this...

For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, "I'm telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you're not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in.

Sorry people, but Jesus is just such a scandal...

We need to put away your 19th century view of childhood, that view that sees childhood as a golden age, a wonderful and desirable state of family bliss, for in the days when Jesus raised this child up, the days of childhood were far from bliss. Jesus is holding up one of life's losers, a worthless commodity, often to be traded. He is saying to his disciples (me) (you?), if you want to have a part in this Kingdom, then you must become that child, or in other words, that thing that no one has any real use or respect for.
To the modern day Jew, the gospel of Jesus reads,
for an answer Jesus called over a Palestinian, for a Palestinian he calls over a Jewish settler. You can fill in the blank for your own particular least liked people group, the point is this, Jesus is not saying you must become childlike ie; innocent, accepting, naive, simple etc.

He is saying that to follow him we are going to find ourselves as the dregs, the outcasts, ignored and squashed, overlooked and scorned. He is heading upstream against the flow of worldly opinion that maintains we amount to something, and teaching that it is in the realisation that we are only what God allows us to be that we find our place.

Paul later on in 1 Cor 1 goes on to repackage this same message in the dull brown wrapping paper known as the 'foolishness of preaching'. What Paul says and what Jesus began is this...God works not in the great, the wise, the powerful, but in the weak and foolish.

These are pretty tough days to be a disciple, I seem to weep more nowadays than in previous times, and I certainly don't rank very high in the realms of greatness, wisdom and power.
Yet I have a hope and a certainty in my weakness and foolishness, and that is this...the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.


dinsy said...

I never knew that stuff about childhood, I thought it was the trusting, innocent etc that Jesus was talking about.

So when Jesus says "Let the little children come unto me" is he in effect saying that the worthless, unwanted, least regarded in society chould be allowed to come to him, rather than the "innocent children" that we usually read this as?

And what about those who cause "these little ones to stumble" - does that also mean the unfortunate, unregarded people, rather than innocent children?

If so, it is quite a command.

Dave said...

I dont know about anyone else but it just seems that the more I read of what Jesus did and said, and what the Apostles confirm in their writings, the more I am 'scandalised' (type skandalon in google for an interesting read of what the Greek usage was), by that I mean I hit a stumbling block that goes against my normative understanding. What do I do, ignore it, pretend it is not there, or allow God to change me?

This is one of those passages, and really it makes more sense in the context of the passage, Jesus is not teaching about conduct toward children, though that is obviously inherent within the text.

So I think it includes children as well, for children cannot protect themselves as adults can and children have less of a voice even in our day, but I think Jesus is saying just what you say. And yes it is quite a command.

Remember the purpose of the command though, it is not to subjegate or oppress us, God means it for good, and the purpose of the command is this...The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 1 Tim 1:4:5

This is out of context, but the purpose remains the same for the command.

dinsy said...

Long post for a Sunday morning.

Searching for skandalon I found - James Alison "Jesus was about" ... "not only a salvific revelation" ... "but also as an educational exercise for those as yet unable to understand the non-definitive nature of death."


"The stumbling block that it (the resurrection) will remove is the human impossibility of following and imitating another man in a path of self-donation that regards death as without substance."

I think that nearly 2000 years of teaching has managed to obscure this fact for us today so that we are in a worse position than the disciples on the night of the Last Supper. We know what happened (and what is going to happen over the next few days) but I don't think most of us really believe in it any more. We believe it, or we would have no basis for our faith, but we don't believe in it, to the extent that we live our lives as a demonstration of it. As the disciples did post resurrection. And yet, without that belief-put-into-action, our faith is stagnant and our witness to Jesus is ineffective.

As we were saying last week, we can't generate that level of faith for ourselves. It has to be a gift of God, and God tends to give us good gifts if we ask for them. If we don't know we need them we don't ask, even worse, if we don't know we need them we wouldn't know what to do with them if He gave them to us. This is terrible. Even if we do recognise this, do we really want to live lives of self-giving love that treats death as without substance? I think the disciples did it because they couldn't help themselves. In the same way that forgiveness calls forth forgiveness, the disciples saw Jesus' self-giving life and when they understood, could not help but immitate him. I think we just don't see it.

I think this must be tied in with us not knowing that we rarely ask God for forgiveness, just to accept us despite our sins. (Forgiveness thread above). And with the forgiveness causing repentance out of love and gratitude (Lost Sons thread below.)

Christianity becomes a comfortable add-on, that assures us of salvation and affects our lives a bit round the edges, because we haven't understood "the non-definitive nature of death."

Shieldsy said...

Interestingly(?), the greek word for child ("Pais") is also the word used for a servant.

However, the Jewish outlook on children was completely different to the Roman view. They were a blessing (boys especially!) and a gift grom God. They didn't practice child exposure (i.e. infanticide) like their Roman counterparts.

It was still an offense ("Skadalon") to have a child brought out as an example of greatness for the same reason it would be today. How many of us today would follow a child, or take instruction from a child, or be willing to act with uninhibited joy or awe like a child?

In fact I think it is even more pertinent in our culture because we have a knowledge based hierarchy. Who would be willing to admit they are as ignorant a little child. Who would be willing to follow someone who has less knowledge than them?

Ever come across any of Fowler's faith development stuff? It's intersting how a new Christians faith is so similar to that of an infants. Then we get more 'knowledgable'! Didn't Paul say somewhere, "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up".

Shieldsy said...

Oops, forgot to add something.

For Jesus to use children as an object lesson is especially pertintent in today's society for another reason: As a man in a sector massively dominated by women (children's work), I know the fear factor of admitting that you prefer working with children to adults. What manly man would seriously want to work with people that instantly brings you the stigma of being a potenial pervert? If churches were serious about Jesus' command they'd invest a lot more of their best people & resources to working with children, they'd try and remove the stigma of having men working with children (in a world where so many children desperately need positive male role models).

dinsy said...

Shieldsy, I'm a bit (or a lot?) naive at times - do people really consider men that work with kids to be a potential pervert? its great that you are prepared to wear that label for the sake of the kids that as you say desperately need a male role model.

Just because there are a few men that abuse their position with kids, that's no reason for thinking all men might do so, there are women that abuse kids too, though usually in other ways to men. Should we then consider all women as potential child-abusers? One might as well assume that all doctors will turn out to be mass murderers.


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