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Suffer the Children

Suffer the Children

Matthew 19:13-15


The Eucharistic gospel for today is a familiar passage about the disciples trying to decide who can come close to Jesus and who can’t. This time it is children. When the disciples tried to shoo them away from Jesus, he very firmly told them to let the children come to him because they had faith and trust that adults didn’t and that the kingdom of heaven would be theirs. I wonder how long the disciples pouted and pondered that particular bit of information.

It’s interesting to look at the verse in several different translations. I was brought up on the King James version which read, “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” Others use “Let” or “Allow” or something similar. The Greek translation uses the word aphete, which is translated as “permit” or “let.” Regardless of which version a person reads, Jesus’s intent seems to be to have the children approach him and be blessed.

Reading this passage today, and thinking about the translation of my youth which uses the words suffer, it made me think about the kids in this world, all the little children that Jesus would welcome and bless. He didn’t specify their state of health, wealth, lawful residence, or religious purity. Instead, I am convinced that had there been those who were hungry, sick, in cages after being seized from their parents, or who die because of lack of care and because people refuse to help them, Jesus would have welcomed them with open arms. 

It’s hard these days not to think about the children of the immigrants who were ripped from their parents’ arms and still have not been reunited with them. Many of them have not received placement where hopefully they sleep in beds, have clean clothes, basic hygiene, medical care, and a chance to be like children they should be. It’s hard to look at the pictures of those children, just like it’s hard to look at images of children suffering anywhere. The eyes of children so often reflect hopelessness. Their eyes glaze as they realize people approaching them are not there to help but to move them around, shuffle them to a different place, or even abuse them. I confess that looking at those eyes tears my heart apart. Instead of suffering the little children to come, I see them made to suffer, and I have to ask myself if that’s the Christian way? What would Jesus think?

So how do we change things? How do we help the hundreds of children in our country, no matter where they came from, to allow them to be children again and not prisoners of some undeclared war? Somehow I feel God’s heart is breaking because, despite all the words about helping the poor and needy and treating the alien in your land as one of you, we quite often forget them, ignore them, or both.  There are many times in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament that reiterate again and again the imperative to love your neighbor as yourself. How can we say we love our neighbors as ourselves when we allow children to be held hostage? That’s not love.  

We saw what happened in Germany, Austria, Poland, and other countries in Europe during the Nazi era. We saw children being made to leave their parents, some to be made guinea pigs for inhuman so-called medical procedures. We saw children rolling up their sleeves for a camera to show the numbers that had been tattooed on their arms to indicate that they were somehow dispensable and deficient, whether or not they had any physical or mental disorders. It seems we have forgotten those pictures if we ever saw them or paid attention to them at all.

The kids that are held in custody came with their parents to look for a better life. Listening to the stories of some of the parents, all they wanted was to keep their children safe, and hopefully to give them a more secure life than they would have in the countries that they fled. Those children will be marked for life because of their experiences Yet many who have made that safety and better life almost impossible claim to be Christian and followers of Jesus. What would Jesus say about that?

Let the little children come; let them learn to trust us as they would learn to trust Jesus. Let them be sheltered and housed as befitting children of God, not children of unwanted aliens. We have an enormous problem, one we need to address and need to solve now. Let the little children come to us and let us be the blessing that Jesus would like us to be. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven, and if we want to share in that kingdom of heaven, it’s up to us to make sure that all of God’s children are welcome.

God bless.


Image: Jesus Christ with the children/ Let the little Children come unto me/ Suffer the Children. Author Carl Bloch (1834-1890), The Museum of National History, Denmark. Oil on Copper.  Found at Wikimedia Commons. 

Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is owned by Dominic, Gandhi, and Phoebe, who keep her busy and frequently highly amused.


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