Mark’s gospel, the first to be written, ends with the mysterious empty tomb rather than the later resurrection stories. It is short, punchy, and in many ways shocking. In chapter 9, Jesus is trying to talk seriously to the disciples about the future and all they can do is to argue amongst themselves about how valuable each one of them is. Jesus drops all talk of the future and brings a child into the conversation, puts the child centre-stage, and brings them back to vital issues. Why is the child significant?
Children represent the future. The disciples had been arguing about their present status, something ephemeral, passing, here today and gone tomorrow, like the names on the foundation stones of buildings (Councillor who???). All the value that we invest in our own lives is like the grass, beautiful today, tomorrow just fodder for animals. But children concentrate our minds on what might be. Children manipulate us into meeting their needs (or their wants if we are over-generous parents).
There is a great temptation in churches to put the elderly centre-stage. As an itinerant preacher for the last fifty-plus years, I am often presented with a prayer book of congregational concerns. I should think that 90 percent are for frail elderly people, people who have “had a fall” or are in hospital. Jesus said that we should put children centre-stage. The fact that we often don’t accounts for their absence from many of our congregations and it becomes a matter of chicken and egg.
Sadly, our political system mirrors the mistakes that many of our churches make. When it comes to wanting to leave the EU, a huge majority of 16-20 years-olds want to remain, a huge majority of pensioners want to leave, so what do we do??? The message from this passage is: stop fussing about ourselves and about people-like-us and start thinking about and making provision for children. After all, as Dumbldore says to Harry Potter: “Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels; but old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young.”
Thinking about children and the world they will live in and manage long after we are dead, provokes thoughts about the animals they will never see in the wild because our behaviour has eliminated them, we think of the poisons we are spreading on intensively farmed land, about the bees we are killing, about the climate that our selfish use of oil and gas is changing for the worse.
It will make us wish that we had invested more in helping the volunteers who run uniformed organisations and youth clubs to encourage children to learn leadership skills, it will make us wish that we had created better houses and public buildings in which to live and work.
Becoming Jesus-Shaped-People is not about us, we will fade into insignificance, it is about creating a world fit for children. We need to change, and how!