Jesus Was No Stranger to the Least of These
Written by Molly Lorden
“People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, 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. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.” (Mark 10:13-16)
We are now in the fifth week of the Lenten season, one week before Palm Sunday. Many of you have given up something: maybe chocolate, Facebook, or meat. The spiritual practice of fasting creates space in our lives to intentionally focus on God, to repent, and to pray. Some of you have taken on something, rather than fasting, during this season. Maybe you are volunteering, or doing acts of charity. Regardless of how you are observing Lent, you may be longing for its end — waiting for the joy that comes with Easter Sunday. In these seasons of waiting and anticipation, it is important to consider where our priorities lie.
Jesus was no stranger to the least of these. He spent three years with his disciples, ministering to people, healing the sick, spending time in fellowship with sinners, and preaching the good news. Now, in these last two weeks before his death and resurrection, he shows us where his priorities lie. Jesus knew what awaited him in Jerusalem, even predicting his death to his disciples (Matt. 20, Mark 10, Luke 18). No doubt, he felt the weight of what was to come. Yet, as his darkest hour approached, he did not spend his time worrying, but rather he elevated the least of these. Jesus carved out time to bless children, proclaiming the kingdom of God belongs to them (Mark 10:13-16).
Many people on all sides of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict feel as though they are in an endless period of waiting for a peace. Sometimes, it seems there is no end in sight. Often, children are the ones who experience the greatest burdens of conflict. Deborah Ellis, Canadian activist and author, compiled a book of interviews with Israeli and Palestinian children titled, Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak. It showcases the emotions of fear, confusion, anger, and hope felt by children on all sides of the conflict, as they long for an end. Gul, an Israeli boy, states, “All I know about this war is that it’s about this country, this land. The Palestinians want it, and we want it, so we’re fighting over it. I don’t know how it will end, or if it ever will.” Maryam, a Palestinian girl, expresses a similar longing for an end to the conflict, “I have only one wish. I would like to go to heaven. Maybe in heaven there is happiness, after we die. Maybe then.”
Expressed in these statements are emotions felt by many Palestinian and Israeli children. Each of them has been taught something about who they are, why they are in conflict, and what it will take for the conflict to end. Each of them longs for the peace and joy its end would bring. For these children, normal life consists of bomb threats, the fear of losing parents, and the threat of being put in detention centers. Yanal, a young Palestinian refugee interviewed for Ellis’ book, reminds us, “Being religious, whether you are Muslim or Christian or Jewish, or whatever you are, means that you should help people, and make the world better, and not just think of yourself. We have these things in common, at least in our religions.”
So, how can we learn from Jesus’ example and elevate these children who truly are “the least of these?” First, we create space for them in our lives. Jesus was indignant and brought the children close, despite the disciples’ attempt to keep them from him. Then, we speak words of value and identity into their lives. Jesus elevated these children by speaking words of affirmation over them, even stating that others should become like them if they want to enter his kingdom. For us, this may mean advocating on the behalf of these children to our government, supporting organizations that love them well, or even taking a trip to the land to see their faces and hear their stories firsthand. Regardless of what each of us is specifically called to and able to do, we are all called to actively wait alongside these precious children for peace to come.
Be with the children in the Holy Land who experience daily confusion, pain, anger, frustration and hope, as they wait for an end to this conflict. Comfort them, hold them close, and bless them. Teach us what it means to actively support these children. As we near the end of the Lenten season and we wait for the joy of Easter morning, let us continue to be active in pursuing justice and mercy.
In your holy name we pray, Amen.
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