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Part 1 - History and Biblical

Articles in the LOOKOUT section of this website span a number of decades and are re-published on behalf of Adrian van Leen for research purposes. Original dates are being added to articles so as to place them in their correct historical setting(s). Adrian has endeavoured to be as fair and accurate as possible at the time of the original writing, but please note that the original article information may no longer reflect the subsequent or current actions, values, beliefs, positions, opinions, teachings or policies held by individuals, groups and/or organisations referred to in the original published article at the time of writing. As people change and move on, the same often applies to related Internet links; some links referred to in articles may have been changed or may no longer be available online.

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Suffer the little children Part 1

The year 2002 has been developing as a year of disturbing exposure of the extent of the evil of child abuse — especially sexual child abuse — and particularly that perpetrated by priests, pastors and other church leaders. The pain and suffering of children across the globe has caused increasing anguish and anger in caring people everywhere. As the year has progressed (??) and time gone on, the reports of past and present child abuse and exploitation have increased. Parents have been guilty of terrible neglect and abuse — both emotional and physical; children have died because parents refused them adequate, available medical or other health care; children have been abused and murdered; children in several Asian countries have been raped and sexually abused by ’sex tourists’ — including Australian men; impoverished parents have abandoned children or sold them for adoption; young children have been taken from families with the promise of finding them work, only to have them sold for adoption, slave labour, or sexual exploitation, including prostitution; young children have been sold or kidnapped to be used as under aged jockeys in Middle Eastern camel racing; children as young as five have been forced to work long hours through poverty or child labour exploitation; children — even very young children - are being used as war-fodder and child soldiers — they are often the first victims of war, greed and corruption, as well as of poverty and famine.

Most of these child sufferings and abuses are not new or limited to 2002.

The abuse and exploitation of children has been with us almost since the beginning of time. In the ancient world male children were important in order to pass on the family name and to provide care for the parents in old age (those same values remain in many countries and communities today). Female children were often regarded inconsequential or insignificant. In some ancient communities girls did not even gain a personal name but took on the name of the clan. Mostly they were not considered worth educating. Young girls were sold into slavery or temple prostitution.

Some of the ancient Greek philosophers became famous for their lofty reasoning, but many enjoyed having blonde haired young boys. In Roman society a son was of value for passing on the father’s name, but the father had total ownership of his children and had the right do with them as he pleased — even beat them to death. In ancient Jewish society the oldest male (even great-grandfather) had dominance over all others in the family, and children, including boys, had to remember their place and position.

In most ancient societies young children were regarded as something of a nuisance, especially around men involved in ’men’s business’ — whether it was working, sitting around discussing, listening to a teacher, philosopher or politician, or the like.

It was no wonder then, that when Jesus was teaching and crowds gathered, his disciples wanted to shield him from those ’little nuisances.’ The mothers thought the kindly Master would give a blessing to their children, but his adult male followers actually told the mothers and children off! They rebuked them! They thought he was too important to bother with young children.

How wrong they were!

Jesus was a radical! He went against conventional thinking in many of the things he taught and did. His relationship with little children was no exception.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all record the incident (Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17).

The King James Version of the Bible has Jesus proclaiming: ’Suffer the little children…’ — with today’s understanding of that first word, is exactly what he DIDN’T want for little children! He didn’t want them to suffer — not even the rejection of being turned away — and certainly not the kind of suffering of which we seem to read almost daily in our newspapers.

’People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let [permit, allow] the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." 16 And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.’ (Mark 10:13-15 NIV)

Jesus not only accepted, held and blessed the little children, but declared that those who could not come to him in child-like trust and faith could not enter or inherit the Kingdom of God. He also saw the potential of a young boy’s insignificant meal and used the willingly offered food to feed thousands (John 6:1-13).

Jesus used a child as an example of humility and the qualities of discipleship:

’At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea….See that you do not look down on one of these little ones".’ (Matthew 18:1-10 NIV) His condemnation of those who caused children to sin or suffer was quite radical for his day — and pertinent for today! Just as radical, if not more so, his claim that in accepting a young child we accept him, and in fact accept God Himself! This is even clearer in Mark’s gospel: ’Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all." He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me."’ (Mark 9:35-37 NIV)

When these, and other Scriptures, are read carefully in their context, it becomes very clear that those who would follow the Master, must develop his compassionate, protective and responsive accepting attitude to children of all ages. There are NO discards with God — especially little children! Christians, of all people, should be Christ-like in their attitude to, and relationships with, all children and do all we can to relieve suffering and oppose and fight all forms of child abuse. In a sermon based on Mark 10:13-16, ’Being a Christian is child’s play’, preached on 5 July 1998, Rev. Graeme Gardiner from the West Epping Uniting Church, Carlingford, NSW, concluded with the following words:

’So this text speaks both to our inner and outer worlds. In our outer world, it calls on us to respect children, for who they are, and to be active in upholding the rights of children, and to build compassionate, healthy relationships with the children that are part of our families and networks. In our inner world, the text urges us to recognize our own need to be accepted, received, embraced, touched, blessed - like a child in Jesus’ arms.’

It is worth giving careful thought to these words, and the preceding Bible readings recorded in this article, and it is also worth reflecting in the words of an old favourite children’s song (think of adding to your own name along with Jesus):

Jesus calls the children dear, Come to me and never fear, For I love the little children of the world; I will take you by the hand, Lead you to the better land, For I love the little children of the world;


Jesus loves the little children, All the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, All are precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.

[Alternate refrain: Jesus died for all the children, All the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, All are precious in His sight, Jesus died for all the children of the world.]

Jesus is the Shepherd true, And He’l always stand by you, For He loves the little children of the world; He’s a Saviour great and strong, And He’ll shield you from the wrong, For He loves the little children of the world. (Music by George Root (1820-1895) originally for a Civil War Song popular with both the North and the South, Tramp, Tramp, Tramp. Words by Preacher, Clare Herbert Woolston — a lyricist apparently used by Root on a number of occasions.)

(From TACL Vol 23 #5 2002)

Suffer the little children Part 1.pdf144.96 KB