Ezekiel 18:1-10, 13b, 30-32
This little periscope of two verses of Matthews Gospel has been called one of the loveliest incidents in the New Testament. The mothers bring their children to be blessed by Jesus. This was very understanding for its time because 30 percent of all children at the time of Jesus died at birth, 30% died of illness, and 60% of all children died before the age of sixteen. It is not surprising then at the urgency of the mothers to want to have their children blessed by Jesus.
This passage is preceded by Jesus’ statement about the sacredness of marriage. This passage will be followed by Jesus’ statement on the importance of celibacy. None of the ancient religions or philosophical systems at the time of Jesus gave such importance to the child. Nowhere else will one find a teaching on the importance of the family as is taught here. If you include the children you automatically include the significance of women in Matthew’s community.
At this time the early Church was debating the legitimacy of the baptism of children. When Jesus says "Don’t hinder the children from coming to me" Matthew deliberately uses the same word (kolo) "hinder" that is used in the baptismal formula for the baptismal rite.
The significance of this teaching is still with us today. Recently a survey was taken on "Marriage and Happiness." It found that the first year of marriage is the year of the greatest bliss. The fifth year of marriage marks the end of the honeymoon and is the most difficult. The tenth year of marriage for some reason is equal to and may even exceed the happiness of the first year. And most recently it is found that the twentieth year of marriage, the years of the empty nest can exceed the bliss of even the first and tenth year. One community skews this pattern. It is the Catholic community. The birth of the first child exceeds the bliss of the first year, and what’s more the birth of the second child exceeds the bliss of the first child. Jesus saying "do not hinder the children from coming to me" has been tattooed into the DNA of every disciple the importance of the child. We cannot do other than to love the children if we want to be his disciples.
Fr. Ken O’Malley, C.P., is the local superior at Holy Name Passionist Community in Houston, Texas.