Monday, February 23, 2009

TCITB Chapter 7 "Children in the Gospel of Mark . . ."

Back to the book. I get easily distracted but I've not forgotten. It may take a while but we do actually get through these books.

from Chapter 7

Children in the Gospel of Mark, with Special Attention to Jesus' Blessing of the Children (Mark 10:13-16) and the Purpose of Mark

Judith M. Gundry

The chapter is longer than the title. :) 'Tis the price for reading scholarly writing. And this lady asks more questions than I do.

She asks why and for whom Mark wrote his gospel. (TCITB p. 143-146) She includes a lengthy and interesting discussion of the cross from the cultural perspective of Mark's readers at the time. (TCITB p. 144-146) She asks what children did Mark include in his gospel and how old were they. (TCITB p. 146-148)

She draws attention to the fact that Mark's text "combines Jesus' teaching about little children and the kingdom of God and Jesus' ministry to children and shows the relationship between them. This teaching and ministry are occasioned by the disciples' rebuke of those bringing little children to Jesus on the way to Jerusalem, and they are set in contrast to the disciples' views and actions." (TCITB p. 149) She points out that these children probably weren't old enough to keep the law, they weren't doing anything to warrant Jesus' favor or attention and yet He not only blessed them but used them as examples and while all this was going on He rebuked His own adult disciples for trying to keep these children away.

She points out that Jesus was doing miracles right and left, even for children, and when people brought the children to Jesus the reader expects Jesus to do more miracles but He takes them in His arms and blesses them. (TCITB p. 150) Was that a miracle? She points out that He blessed children who were brought to him by others - perhaps too young to come to Him on their own. (TCITB p. 152)

She says ". . . despite children's inaction, absence, and even resistance, Mark's Jesus brings the blessings of the kingdom to children solely on the basis of their need." (TCITB p. 152) She explores the idea that even though the parents brought their children to Jesus, He uses the children (not the adults who brought them) as models of faith. (TCITB p. 153)

She says, "Little children were the weakest and most vulnerable link in the social chain and therefore in many and profound ways dependent on God's rule being implemented in their lives" (TCITB p. 154-5) implying that adults have that role to play and that role isn't defined by or confined to what we call "Christian Education" or even "Spiritual Formation". She reminds us that Jesus told the adults "do not prevent them. . . from coming to me." (TCITB p. 154)

She made me think about comments in previous essays about the Hebrew people understanding God's promises to be something apprehended by future generations on this earth as opposed to something to be apprehended later in some heavenly place. And that even in this context Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven belongs to them - the children. What does that mean?

She wonders whether Jesus' hug of blessing was reflective of his taking on a parental and protective role. (TCITB p. 156) Her footnotes some discussion of the story of the Prodigal Son. She talks about Jesus extending "kinship" and the benefits of his "kinship"to the children He blessed. She discusses Jesus extending his own household to those who do His will but that it doesn't replace their own families. She sees all of this in the larger context of the mutual dependence of those in community present and future. (TCITB p. 158-162)

All of the essays in this book so far, explore the roles of children in the scriptures but at the same time put them in the larger context, the bigger picture - not only in the immediate context of family and society but as heirs and descendants who will continue into a new generation. I think, as Americans we are more used to thinking about ourselves and other people as individuals in the immediate present than we are thinking about individuals in the larger context of an interdependent social community past, present, and future.

She looks at how children were seen in the world when the gospel of Mark was written. She finishes asking why the disciples kept the children from coming to him after he healed so many of them. She proposes that perhaps this was because they didn't want anything to get in the way of or slow down Jesus coming into what they believed would be his Davidic reign and their place with Him. (TCITB p. 164-168) She says, Jesus "succeeds in putting the young before the old, the disabled before the able, and the poor before the rich" (TCITB p. 168) suggesting that Jesus' pastoral attention to the needs of his sheep (and his lambs) continue to take precedence over His coming into His glory (as we know glory). I personally believe that His glory is, in fact, the way He bends down to the lowly. He continues to give "the most dependent . . . the highest priority." (TCITB p. 168) People might argue whether or not a needs-orientation is always God's priority for anyone nurturing the most dependent members of our society, it is.

She goes on to say, "Jesus goes from 'let the little children come' to become 'like a little child" but asks what it means to be childlike in order to receive God's kingdom. (TCITB p. 169) She explores this. Even her footnotes raise some really interesting questions and draw pictures that tie back into other images from scripture examined in previous essays, not necessarily because the essays were intentionally tied to this one but because the scriptures tie together. She cites other images from scripture to describe childlike. (TCITB p. 170-1)

She discusses Herodias' daughter asking for the head of John the Baptist. (TCITB p. 172-3)

She concludes her essay looking at how Mark's pictures of the ways that Jesus interacted with the children contribute to the purpose of his gospel and his larger picture of Jesus. She describes Jesus as having an "'in your face' way of treating and talking about little children." You gotta love it!

One of the things that I find most frustrating as I read and blog about each of these essays is that there is so much to ponder, both in detail and big picture. The authors' intimate understanding of the language and culture of the scriptures gives us so much to think about without even tackling the potential implications for practical application. I may change my approach.

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