In the Mediterranean world in which Jesus lived, children held a different kind of status than they do in our world today. We expect our children to grow into adults and to engage in a life of fulfilled dreams. This was not the case for parents of Jesus' time. More than half of the children born at this time never reached puberty. They died of diseases and of malnutrition. When children appear in the Gospels, it is important to remember that they are the most vulnerable members of society at the time of Jesus. To say that the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these, Jesus is saying that the kingdom of God belongs to the poor, the vulnerable, and the disregarded.
There is another dimension to this Gospel reading. At the time of Jesus, children had the free reign of the family compound. These people lived in extended families. Brothers lived with their brothers and their wives and their children. The eldest brother or their father was the patriarch. The women lived in one section of the home, usually to the rear where they were not so vulnerable to the vagaries of passers-by. The men lived in another room, usually near the front of the home and were seen as the protectors of their women and children. The children roamed freely between the two areas and were often used by the adults to discover what was going on in the other rooms. They carried stories back and forth. They were the ultimate destroyers of secrecy as they had access to the whole house. The women could not keep secrets from the men and vice versa.
If one wanted to keep a secret, it was paramount to isolate oneself from children. So when the disciples shoo the children away from Jesus, it was not simply a matter of giving the Master some quiet time. It was to protect him from gossip, from stories that the children could carry to the adults. Jesus welcomes the children in order to show that he has no secrets, that his life is open and above board. We Westerners tend to romanticize this story and make it look like Jesus had a special relationship with the children when in fact the story is to show that Jesus special relationship was with all men and women as well as children. Jesus was authentic, trustworthy, and did not try to hide his private life. Allowing the children into his life was proof of that authenticity.
Through the Eucharist, we too are granted full access to the Lord. Nothing is hidden when we allow Jesus to enter into our lives through Holy Communion.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator