Mark 10:13-14: The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: “Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom.
As we read through the New Testament together in our congregation I find it interesting the extent to which conflict is in the forefront. In this passage the disciples are irritated with the people bringing their children, and Jesus is “irate” with the disciples. Some of us thrive on a good fight, but most people find conflict to be negative. We are more drawn to the Jesus who preaches peace and love. But this is the same Jesus who stands up and confronts. Are the two qualities mutually exclusive? Can love and peace be a real presence even in the midst of disagreement, conflict and the attendant emotions that accompany them? The gospels seem to indicate that this can be so. In fact, conflict may open us up to a deeper encounter with God and others, as was the case here. If you have no conflicts in your life this week you have reason to be very thankful. But if you do, and most of us do on some level, you may have the opportunity, albeit a difficult one, of going further into a holy place. May you find the grace to go there.
Mark 4:33-34: With many stories like these, he presented his message to them, fitting the stories to their experience and maturity. He was never without a story when he spoke. When he was alone with his disciples, he went over everything, sorting out the tangles, untying the knots. (The Message Bible)
My encounter with the Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods was a very meaningful experience for me. It expressed certain ideas in a beautiful and powerful way, some of which have stayed close to my heart for many years now. In one song he reminds us: “Careful the tale you tell, that is the spell. Children will listen.” The stories Jesus told he told purposefully and we need to listen to them with our hearts as well as our ears (or eyes if you read). And we also need to be mindful of the stories we tell with our words and actions. Are we being just as purposeful? Children of all ages listen attentively to those stories whether we are aware of it or not. Jesus’ stories were stories of forgiveness and compassion and comfort and the mystery of God’s kingdom in us. How about yours? “Careful the tale you tell, that is the spell. Children will listen.”
Matthew 18:12: “If someone has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders off, doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine and go after the one?”
Another sheep story. It may be hard for us to relate to shepherds in this day and age but the massage is clear. There are things we love so dearly that we would risk the safety and comfort of the rest of our lives in order to pursue their welfare. If you have children this is a no-brainer. Parents regularly set aside the maintenance of daily life to tend to the problems and pains of a child in need. There are two implications here. First, God loves and seeks us out in this way while we are lost and wandering away from God. Even when the world feels like a cold and heartless place, God is calling us into God’s care. The second implication is that God is doing the same thing for those around us. God’s heart goes out to them no matter what our assessment of them may be. In fact, we even get to be junior shepherds, God’s agents to show the way back to the flock. Where are you this week? Do you need to listen for the voice of love calling you back? Do you need to be the voice of love for someone else? As the Psalm says, “The Lord is my shepherd.”