“Some Pharisees came, and to test him” Mark 10:2
Pharisees and children, we can learn from both of them. We can learn from what the Pharisees do, and we can learn from children don’t do.
We are unfair to the Pharisees, they were not the two dimensional villains they have come to be in our minds. The Pharisees were a lay movement, they were a reaction to the Temple in Jerusalem and the corruption with which it had become associated. The Pharisees would have sympathised with Jesus when he drove the money changers from the Temple and declared that it has been made into a den of thieves. The Pharisees sought holiness of life and the scams being perpetrated against those who came to worship at the Temple. The Temple was a place where people were compelled to buy over-priced sacrifices with a Temple currency on which they had paid an exorbitant commission; the Temple was the antithesis of all that the Pharisees held holy.
The ideal for the Pharisees was to bring a Godly holiness into every aspect of human life. The Pharisees had hundreds of laws that they had developed to regulate every imaginable part of human life. The Pharisees’ hope was to live by all of the laws in order to draw close to God. The Pharisees were not bad people, on the contrary, they were upright, respectable good living people. They were strict in their self-discipline and strict in the discipline of their households. It would have been hard to fault their ethical standards, they would not knowingly do anything wrong, or what they perceived to be wrong. The Pharisees dislike of Jesus arose not from their perception of him being more religious than them, but from a belief that he was behaving in an unGodly manner, that his lifestyle did not show the respect for God in the ways that they expected.
When Jesus condemns the Pharisees, he does not condemn what they do, he condemns the way that they do it. Jesus is not critical of people seeking after personal holiness. Jesus is critical of the way in which that seeking for holiness is shown, it was done in a way that was more about drawing attention to the person than about bringing glory to God. Even prayer had become a matter of show, something done in such a way as to draw the attention of all the passer by. Jesus would not be critical of prayer, but he is critical of those who made prayer into an occasion of self publicity, of those who sought to show everyone around how religious they were. It was not what the Pharisees did that was at fault; it was the way that they did it. Jesus condemns them for a religion that was concerned with the outward appearances, but did not bring about a change of people’s hearts.
When the Pharisees come to test Jesus, asking him about divorce, they are not concerned with the people involved, they are concerned with appearing to uphold the rules, declaring in Chapter 10 Verse 4, “‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” They are not concerned with women being treated as property that could be set aside, they are concerned with appearing to be people who adhered to the laws, in Verse 5, Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.” The Pharisees have done much, but all their words and actions have not brought any change in their hearts.
We can learn from what the Pharisees do, and we can learn from what the children don’t do.
Children are not like the Pharisees, they are not self-conscious. Verse 13 tells us, “People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them.” The children are not worried at being brought forward, it might be the only time anyone has thought they mattered. Children did not imagine themselves to be important because children were not regarded then as they are now. Before Victorian times, children were simply people who had not reached adulthood. They were economically unproductive; they were too small for military service; they had few of the skills necessary to help run a house—they were simply unimportant, yet, for Jesus, they are the most important.
When Jesus sees the disciples trying to stop the children we are told in Verse 14, “he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” For centuries since Jesus said this, the church has tried to avoid this fundamental piece of Jesus’ of Jesus’ teaching. Let the children come to him because the children are the ones with the right perspective on their own importance, they don’t think of themselves as anything other than what they are. Let the children come to him because children know there is always someone greater and bigger and more powerful than them; the vanity of adults like the Pharisees is not an option. Let the children come to him because the children are the ones with the right perspective on time: a year away, a month away, these terms are meaningless when you are young, everything might have changed by then; life is for living here and now. Let the children come to him because their perceptions of God have not been clouded over by adult notions of how we think God should be.
We can learn from what the Pharisees do and what the children don’t do; we can learn from what the Pharisees are not and what the children are. Sometimes, being adults, we may feel that the dignity of the Pharisee is more appropriate to us than the childishness of the young, at such moments we should remember the words of Verse 15,”Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
Jesus says our place in heaven requires that we think, and speak and do as a child would – the Pharisees would have been troubled at such a thought, how do we respond?