from TCITB Chapter 8
"What Then Will This Child Become?": Perspectives on Children in the Gospel of Luke
John T. Carroll
We all ask that question when we hold a newborn baby in our arms, don't we? This is the book of scripture that tells us the most about the events surrounding the births of Jesus and John the Baptist and Jesus' childhood on this earth. The book is full of children. Mr. Carroll only briefly refers to many of the events in Jesus' life that occur in the other gospels and were explored in depth in the previous chapter of TCITB though they also occur in Luke. He notes that the Greek words that Luke uses to describe the children are more specific than in the other Gospels relating the same events. (TCITB p. 177)
Luke's audience is "a world of and for the adult, and especially, at least in the public realm, the male adult. Luke knows this reality well . . . Yet as this narrative begins, the pace of the action slows dramatically so as to highlight the conversation between two pregnant women, who discuss their circumstance and the fortunes and promise borne by the children to whom they will soon give birth. . . " (TCITB p. 178)
I think growing up with the scriptures we take God's involvement in the lives of women and children for granted. Considering the fact that the scriptures came to people with less regard for women and children these stories make His involvement even more significant. He lingers over Jesus' childhood. "The cultural disorientation attending the story's beginning would prepare Luke's audience for the surprising and radical role reversals that lie ahead . . . " (TCITB p. 178)
Growing up in a "Christian" culture, whatever form, I don't think we have any idea how radical Jesus was. I don't think we have any idea.
He shows us how Luke looks at children and families from multiple perspectives. (TCITB pp 179-182) "[Luke's] affirmation of family cohesion and of children's obedience to their parents would trouble none of Luke's first readers, whatever their cultural roots and social location; this was the culturally expected pattern in the Greco -Roman world of the late first century CE." Carroll points out that ". . .the social reversals . . . that Jesus announces and enacts in his ministry are part of a longer story of God with God's people" Children receive with God what they can't receive in their own social world. "The upside-down world of God's reign as Jesus sees and practices it shows that, when it comes to children, God's ways are not our ways." God is our model. His ways are to become our ways in this world. "So hospitality extended to the vulnerable one, the one of low status, becomes welcome extended to God." (TCITB p. 182) It's worth re-looking at our culture and parent-child relationships, church-child relationships to see if we have in fact embraced what Jesus taught us. If not, how do we do it.
Carroll looks at children and parents. He says though both Jesus and John were both born into religiously observant families poised to receive God's promises to Israel, "[A]s the story unfolds, readers discover that eschatological fulfillment of ancient promise, at least as Jesus proclaims and embodies it, does not bless ancient social patterns but instead brings disruption." (TCITB p. 182) What are the social patterns in our culture. How do they affect children? Are they the patterns God gave us?
Carroll says, "The duty of loyalty and obedience to parents is a social - and clearly, a religious - obligation of the utmost importance. The cohesion, stability, and economic viability of the community depend on such an ordered family structure." (TCITB p. 183) What does ordered family structure look like in our culture? How does it contribute to or hinder community and family cohesion, stability, and economic viability?
Carroll discusses Jesus' call to leave all and follow. He says, "If the disciples come to realize that God's claim may collide with allegiance to parents and household, this is a discovery that Jesus made before them. . ." I forget that Jesus did, in fact walk the line and embraced before us both leaving and loving his family. He briefly points out that "Joseph . . . remains intriguingly silent. . . throughout [Luke's] narrative." (TCITB p. 185) We may not think about this with so many missing fathers in our culture but in a patriarchal society, this would be very significant. There was a non-silent, present Father in Jesus' story.
He discusses the meaning of the language when Jesus says that anyone who doesn't "hate" family "and even life itself, can not be my disciple." (TCITB p. 186) He says, "These are not words designed to comfort parents, but they can be liberating and empowering for their children, especially in a social world in which one's place as dutiful son or daughter within the household was the primary determinant of identity, role, and vocation." (TCITB p. 187) He reminds us that Jesus found this with His heavenly father (TCITB p 185) without abandoning his natural family and maintained the tension required to keep both ends intact. (TCITb p. 187) These were very interesting comments. We, perhaps, are more apt to encourage kids to break away than generations before us but his discussion and the places in scripture where Jesus does this are worth exploring.
Carroll looks at children and status in the kingdom of God. God's ways reversed status. His disciples don't get it. They argue about who was greatest. Jesus responds to this conflict by drawing a child beside Him. He tells His disciples if they welcome this little one, they welcome Him. Treat this young person the way you would treat My representative. When the disciples want honor, Jesus tells them they must extend hospitality to and receive a little child. You want to honor Jesus? You want to honor God? Honor a little child. The disciples push the children away, Jesus pulls the children close. This is a facinating discussion. It's not only worth reading but it's worth going back to the scriptures to see what the disciples are saying or asking for and how Jesus responds using children. (TCITB p. 189) Carroll points out that "Jesus sides with the young against his disciples; even infants have right of access to him, because, after all, they already have a place within God's realm." (TCITB p. 190) He signifies the manger as "a powerful symbol of the reversals that lie ahead." (TCITB p. 191)
He looks at play and community hospitality. It's interesting that for all of Jesus' using children as examples, so many of these authors point to the fact that Jesus doesn't ever really define "child-like." Luke, however, draws attention to children playing. Carroll's discussion and what it said about the community Jesus was addressing is worth reading and I'm guessing there is more to ponder here. (TCITB p. 191-2)
His concluding remarks largely target the role of the faith community assisting, reinforcing, and intervening. (TCITB p. 193-4) It makes me wonder what became of those children that Jesus met. Surely their lives were better for it.