Receive as a Child

By James Cornwell

A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 10:1-16

1 He left that place and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan. And crowds again gathered around him; and, as was his custom, he again taught them.

2 Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 5 But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 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. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.


Today’s passage from the Gospel of Mark includes the famous line, “Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.” This line is typically interpreted as, “Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child does, he shall not enter therein.” There is a certain truth to this interpretation, but if not preached carefully, it may convey to our youth-obsessed society something that it very much wants to hear: slough off the seriousness and obligations of adulthood, for the kingdom of heaven is for those with a youthful heart!

Let’s try parsing the sentence a different way: “Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as one receives a little child, he shall not enter therein.” This seems more counter-cultural. In our society, children can be viewed more as expressions of the will of adults than unpredictably-timed gifts to be received. We choose to have children. We “make babies.” Where once children were understood as begotten, now we view them as deliberately made.

There is some social benefit to this. For one thing, it helps us better regard others, and especially women, according to more than just their physically procreative potential. But it also makes some of Jesus’ metaphors more difficult to access. If we are to receive the kingdom of God as one receives a child in his day, as opposed to ours, that puts the agency back on God. We do not achieve the kingdom through an act of will, we cannot make it. Instead, we must follow the Mother of God in our hopeful prayer that God’s promise may bear fruit and his kingdom may be begotten within us: “Behold the servant of the Lord; be it to me according to thy Word.”

James Cornwell lives and teaches in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their six children.

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Today we pray for:

Christ the King Episcopal Church, Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.
The Diocese of Dunedin (Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia)


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