1 Samuel 2:18-2+Psalm 144:3-4+(1 Peter 2:4-10)+Mark 7:10-13
Children do not get a lot of airtime in the bible. Now, that might come as a surprise, because we all love the picture of Jesus and the children, saying “let them come to me.” Or the one about Jesus getting left behind in Jerusalem when he was 12 as his family headed back to Nazareth. Or Moses floating down the Nile in a basket. If you look closely, though, you might find references to children or seed or offspring, but actual children with actual names are pretty rare. Wondering where the children are sent me on a hunt through the bible this week.
Samuel, who we encounter in our first reading this morning, is one of those significant, named ones. The boy who became King David is another. Josiah the king of Judah was 8 when he became king (he was one of the “good”kings). Daniel in the lion’s den might have been a child. Miriam, the sister of Moses, would have been quite young when she approached pharaoh’s household to offer a wetnurse for the infant Moses. But beyond these?
- Jairus’s daughter whom Jesus raises from the dead (Matthew 9. Luke 8, Mark 5) and the boy with the spirit that the disciples failed to heal (Mark 9).
- The boy who brought forward the loaves and fishes so that Jesus could feed the crowds (John 6).
- The daughter of the Canaanite woman who challenges Jesus to heal an outsider (Matthew 15).
- A young girl of Israel who sent her master Naaman to Elisha the prophet to be healed from leprosy (2 Kings 5), and of course those boys who taunted that same Elisha for being bald so that he called on bears to maul them (2 Kings 2). True story.
As you can see, children, when they even appear, more often than not have no names and are not especially central to the story.
In the case of Samuel, he was a major figure in the history of Israel, so he gets a name and his mother gets a story. For Hannah and Elkanah, Samuel had been long-awaited, and Hannah had promised to devote him to service in the temple, leaving him with the old priest Eli when he was weaned. As a reward for keeping this promise, Hannah was blessed with even more children. In the culture of the times, children were a blessing, and lack of children meant that God did not favor you.
It is, then, an interesting turn-about when Jesus accuses his questioners of breaking the commandment to honor their father and mother by giving their money to the temple rather than supporting their parents. This short passage in Mark comes in the midst of the seemingly endless debates Jesus has with the other Pharisees. It started with an argument about washing hands before you eat. These religious leaders had noticed that Jesus’s followers didn’t wash their hands and so make a fuss about the tradition of washing before eating, but Jesus throws back to them that they actually violate a commandment in withholding assistance from their parents. A few verses later, he will explain to his followers that we can’t be corrupted by what we put into our bodies but only by what comes out:
For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’ (Mark 7:21-23)
That these religious leaders consider themselves so pious that they claim to dedicate everything to God at the expense of their parents – that is what defiles.
There’s a verse in the book of Proverbs that says. “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray” (Provers 22:6). Maybe these religious folk weren’t trained up very well, or maybe they just strayed.
For a child not to care for an elderly parent would have been unthinkable. Bonds of family and kinship were strong, and to deviate from them could bring judgment and ostracism from the community. Everyone had their role, and those roles were pretty stringent. Girl children learned to keep a household from their mothers, to cook, and garden, and care for young ones. Their job was to grow up and make a good marriage and have babies. Boys followed in their father’s footsteps. Whatever their father did, they did, and eventually they carried on the family tradition and fathered more children to do the same. Even Jesus was a carpenter, the son of a carpenter.
Children did not have rights or status. In fact, that is a fairly recent invention and is still not a thing in some cultures. But it is for us. We may not treat our children as miniature adults, but we do give them some agency to make age-appropriate choices and to include them in conversations about family life. We cherish our kids, right?
Then why are firearms the leading cause of death among children and teens from 1-19? Does it not say something about us that we will do anything as a country but reduce the number of guns?
Yes, yes, I know that our representatives have just proposed the first bipartisan gun legislation since 1994, and I am grateful for that. But it does nothing about the current abundance of firearms in this country and it does not ban assault weapons. It’s pretty weak sauce, but I have to say it’s better than what the Supreme Court handed down on Thursday, not to mention on Friday when it became clear that we are willing to force children to be born but won’t guarantee their health and safety afterwards.
Now, I know that I preached about guns a couple of weeks before I went on vacation, but I have been listening to reports of what actually happened in Uvalde, Texas – the inaction of law enforcement and, apparently, an active coverup for their failure to save the lives of those 19 children and 2 adults.
These children had names. They had stories. They had families who cherished them.
Makenna, Layla, Maranda, Nevaeh, Jose, Xavier, Tess, Rojelio, Ellie, Eliahna, Annabell, Jackie, Uziyah, Jayce, Maite, Jailah, Irma, Eva, Amerie, Alexandria, Alithia.
In the two weeks after the shootings in Uvalde, 23 children and 66 teenagers died in gun violence. A month on, how many more now?
I’m also more than a little shook that on June 16, a gunman opened fire at an Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, killing three senior adults. This is a church that raised up a friend of mine for ministry, a church less than an hour away from where I used to visit my grandmother and cane-pole fish in my great aunt’s pond.
The bible tells us over and over again not to be afraid. And the only way I know not to when I come to church or go to a school or a grocery store or a concert is to use my voice as a person of faith to say that this is not what it means to love your neighbor.
I thank God for each of you. I know your names. I know your stories. You are beloved of God and loved by me. I will do everything I can to make this world a safer place for all of us. I hope that you will do the same.