Childish, Troublesome Jesus
By Pastor Kali Freels
Sometimes, I like to imagine Jesus as a child. Not the baby we imagine on Christmas, and not the 12 year old we see in the Gospel of Luke, but a child. Like a 5-7 year old. At that age, he’s to the point where he can run, jump, and laugh. He can ask people how they’re doing (and maybe be present enough to listen to a response). He’s starting to think critically about the world. We don’t have any stories about Jesus’ childhood, but we can probably guess his temperaments based on the stories we have from his adulthood.
Honestly, I think Jesus was probably an extremely annoying child. Sure, he was probably kind and gentle-spirited, but I think he was exceptionally inquisitive. I can imagine Mary and Joseph trying to answer Jesus’ many questions, doing their best to make sure their son, the Son of God, knew everything he needed to know in order to be a proper Jewish man. “Mom, why do we eat animals with the cloven hooves, but not pigs? Why do you never cut your hair? Why do we post scripture to our doorpost? Why? Why? Why?” We all know that child. Eventually, we can’t answer their Whys with anything except, “because that’s just what we do” or, “that’s just how it is.” Nothing seems to satisfy their endless questions, and I think Jesus was the same.
I can imagine Jesus asking questions while walking to temple with his parents. “Why are only Jewish people allowed in temple? Where do the Gentiles worship? Why don’t we worship with them?” Mary and Joseph exchange surprised and slightly anxious glances. Mary replies, “Because we’re Jewish and they aren’t. That’s just how it is.”
I can imagine Joseph taking Jesus out of the city to get more lumber for the carpenter’s shop. As they walk, Jesus looks up to the horizon and sees a small group of tents just outside the city. He can see people milling about, several in obvious pain. Troubled, Jesus looks up at Joseph and says, “Father, who are those people, and why are they outside the city?”
“They’re lepers, Jesus. They have to live outside the city.”
“Because they’re unclean.”
“Because their skin is diseased.”
“We should help wash them so they will be clean.”
“We can’t, Jesus.”
“If we touch them, we’ll become unclean and the temple officials won’t let us worship in the temple.”
“But didn’t God make those people too?”
“So shouldn’t we care for them? Surely, they must be hungry. And thirsty. Father, we must take them something to eat and to drink.”
“We can’t, Jesus. They’re lepers. We can’t touch unclean people.”
“Because that’s just how it is. That’s not what we do.”
Jesus was a rebel. As an adult, he touched the lepers when he was told not to, welcomed Gentiles into the fold, and dined with tax collectors and prostitutes. He didn’t sigh and say, “That’s just how things are,” and ignore them; instead, he told the story of the Good Samaritan and told us that those people are our neighbors and we should love them all the same.
And maybe, just maybe, that’s why Jesus welcomed the little children. Maybe that’s why he allowed them to come and interrupt his teaching, even though “that’s not how things were done” so that he might teach those around him a new way to see the world. Maybe he knew that they were just as inquisitive as he was when he was a child, just as dissatisfied with “That’s just how it is” responses to injustices in the world. Maybe they would grow up to be just as called by God to make a difference, to shift the norm from exclusion to inclusion, from barriers to shared space, from segregation to integration. He could see the curiosity in their eyes, along with the innocent will to do good.
Maybe that’s what Jesus means when he says we must be like little children in order to inherit the Kingdom of God. Instead of being a passive people, we are to be an inquisitive people, a people who always asks, “Why?” Maybe we’re supposed to love people with the innocence of a small child ignorant to the rules of what makes a person “clean” or “unclean.” Maybe we’re supposed to knock down those social boundaries with the determination of a child who doesn’t know what failure is.
We are in a unique time in the life of Redeeming Church. In the next few months, we will have the chance to shape the personality of this church, from the ministry we do in this city to the worship we offer God in our gathering spaces. In these few months, we will choose how this city knows us. It will be tempting to only communicate with certain people because “that’s just how things are,” or only do comfortable things because “that’s just what we do,” but I believe God has called us to something better than that. Christ calls us to push boundaries so that all might experience the Kingdom of God here and now. We are to be a people that looks past social norms to enact the coming of a Kingdom that makes no sense in our culture: a Kingdom where all are welcome as family, regardless of whatever label society has placed on them. And so, we welcome our neighbors into the fold with the excitement of a child seeing someone she loves. Because, as children ourselves, we know the only label that matters is Child of God.