Children Cannot Choose

Feast of the Holy Innocents

By Jane Williams

A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 10:13-16

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.


Illuminatingly, the New Testament lectionary reading for the commemoration of the Holy Innocents takes us to Jesus’ teaching about and interaction with children. In the back of our imaginations is the terrible action of Herod, reported in Matthew 2:16, protecting his own power at any cost to others, particularly the weak and the powerless. As we watch Jesus receiving and blessing the children, we are seeing different kingdoms clashing.

Herod is long dead, but his model of power still operates and, the world over, children bear the brunt of it. Children cannot choose their own paths; they cannot protect themselves; they cannot question what is done to them. No wonder we are told that Jesus is “indignant” when his disciples show that they, too, think Jesus should not waste his time on the children. They do not ask themselves why Jesus wastes his time on them, who have hardly more power and influence than the children they are trying to turn away. As adults, at least they are more important than these children, even if they have little authority in any other forum.

Endless sermons have been preached about what makes children the ideal citizens of the kingdom of God, but what is fundamental is the power dynamic. It lies at the heart of all of Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom. Those who can defend themselves, with power, money, status, or any of the other things that we value so highly, are barricading themselves against the coming rule of God.

Dr. Jane Williams is McDonald Professor in Christian Theology at St Mellitus College. She is also an editor, a sought-after public speaker, and is involved in promoting theological education in the Anglican Communion. She is the author of a number of books, including The Art of Advent (SPCK, 2018).

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