Chapter 9 : Children in the Gospel of John
Marianne Meye Thompson
Ms. Thompson took on a challenging assignment. The first thing she notes about children in the Gospel of John is that, compared to the other gospels, "children are essentially missing..." I wonder if the fact that John was still a young adult - a youth, himself- affected his perspective. Was he a young man leaving children and childhood behind and focused on embracing his adulthood? We don't know. She observes "However, the metaphor 'children of God' does occur in John." [TCITB p. 195]
She asks how the absence of children in John's gospel affects our thinking about children [TCITB p. 195] and how our thinking about children affects how we read John's gospel. She explores John's focus on Life - not just spiritual life and that Life includes children. She reminds us that children and children of God have physical, social, economic, and spiritual needs and they are all important. [TCITB p. 196] She reminds us that because of the life we've been given in relationship to our Creator and Life Source, that children have value and their lives matter. [TCITB p. 197]
She reminds us that John's use of the word "all" includes children. It isn't just for adults. [TCITB p. 197]. That's a big one to ponder.
She addresses gnosticism and the unity of the God who creates our physical world and the God who is Spirit, the God who saves and fills us with His Spirit. She talks about the incarnation and dualism. This is a really interesting discussion, especially if you've never thought about this. [TCITB p. 198] She says, especially when we read John, we tend to "characterize what Jesus does for human beings solely in 'spiritual' terms..." We interpret so much of the Gospel of John as "spiritual" but John doesn't differentiate between spiritual and physical. I think what she is saying is that what Jesus did wasn't just spiritual - "Life, in all its forms, comes from the hand of God." There's alot to ponder here. She differentiates between miracles and signs and talks of Jesus meeting the needs of desperate people at all levels. [TCITB p 198-201]
She examines the context of children in the ancient Roman world. The childhood mortality rate was high. She refers to Thomas Wiedemann who says: "Life expectancy was probably between 20-25 years, it was likely that a child had a fifty-fifty chance of surviving to age 10 , and a less than one in two chance of living into adulthood." She talks about children and the gods. She talks about the marginalization of children in society and children who were considered disposable in ancient society. In what we consider a highly developed world I see us fearful of things with any potential for harm but she reminds us that much of the world still lives with the reality of high infant mortality. [TCITB p. 201-203]
She says, ". . . God is the giver of all life and . . .the law of God protects those to whom God has given life." She looks at our responsibilities today in light of Jewish and Christian tradition in regards to abortion and infanticide. [TCITB p. 204-205]
She looks at "children of God" - born and given physical life, born again and given a new life by the Spirit. [TCITB p 206-7] She says we often read John and look at it though very individualistic eyes but, in John, the children of God are gathered by God into His family and into His community. She differentiates between the children of God and human beings created by God and loved by God but not yet part of His family. She talks about natural family and the family of God - conflict and caring. [TCITB p. 207-210]
Light and darkness were also themes in John's gospel. She comments on the "ordinariness" of Jesus' life and how light that shines there, however small, still extinguishes darkness. Jesus lived as an example. [TCITB p. 211-213]
This is a powerful statement: "Children need to be meaningful participants in the mission of Jesus in the world. Children can neither be ignored not idealized, nor made to serve adult programs, projects, and desires, nor can they be left out of the call to discipleship or the mission of the church. They, too, are called to love as Jesus commanded, and so to imitate the one in and through whom they are created." She tells us that to treat children as less than first class citizens is to do them a disservice. She says that this enables them to relate to God in a way that gives them "identity, value, and belonging that is drawn from relationship to the God who made them." [TCITB p. 213] She suggests that the Gospel of John applies to children of God - all ages including the youngest. God's family includes children of all ages and through His family, He makes His light shine in the darkness.
So we've been challenged to read the Gospel of John as not only a book for grown-ups or about grown-ups but as a book for and about children, too. It's not only a book about Spirit but about God, coming to us, interacting with us, giving to us, and changing every part of us.